In 1946, Frank Capra told a story about how the life of one ordinary man in one typical small town made a difference that impacted the world. This story went on to become an icon of the holiday season and a movie many of us watch every year, but this year became the year I lived it.
For eight and a half years, I taught proudly at Wayne Community College. It was a job I had prayed for and thanked God for daily. Then Covid-19 happened, and we all shifted to working remotely. I worked primarily from home but went into my office occasionally. When I did, everything had changed. Fellowship was truncated. Everyone kept masked in their separate offices and rarely socialized anymore. Covid-19 stole the heart of our connection to each other. That impacted me more than I realized.
I thought the grass was greener in other departments, but I had no opportunity to move there. Then I thought the grass was greener outside the pasture, and I left Wayne Community College.
It was a golden opportunity that promised to pay me double what I made teaching and let me stay home all day building curriculum. Within three months, I was putting down money on land and finally building my house. Before the land was fully in my name and the contractor was hired, I was fired.
Closed Doors = Opportunities
I didn’t see it coming, and I was in shock. Then I got angry. God and I had a few choice words as I walked my property and realized I couldn’t move forward with the dream and everything I had longed for was on hold once more.
I felt so foolish. If I had known it would end like this, I would have never left Wayne Community College. Sitting in a field full of weeds looking like I’d lost my mind, I cried out to God for answers.
God didn’t answer me in that moment or even the next ten, but He did answer. First of all, He showed me that the cost of building during Covid was so high that I would have been upended if I started the house build when I wanted to. It was better to let the ground rest for now.
Secondly, He showed me that He had to let me go through all that to pull me out of my comfort zone and into my calling as a writer. As a teacher, I didn’t make time for writing. I thought I would just wait till I retired. God said, “nope, I need you now.”
The Difference One Life Can Make
What proceeded to happen was a series of open doors that only could have happened by God’s hand. I walked into small businesses, corporate offices, and local government and found favor to tell stories about all sorts of people and places. The blog grew to an international readership in over 30 countries with over 10,000 views. That gave me a platform to talk about social issues and advocate for change on a national and global level. All of a sudden, this little ordinary girl in a little ordinary town was making a big world difference.
Doing the right thing doesn’t always pay you back monetarily. In fact, this year closes out on the lowest bottom-line in my bank. But what God and I have built together this year on faith is something I couldn’t have imagined with thousands of dollars and plenty of job security.
What God Saw That I Couldn’t
In the Fall, parents across the country were enraged with Covid-19 restrictions hurting learning for their kids, LGBTQ agendas forced into education, and Critical Race Theory being taught in school. Even at the college level now, curricula are being rewritten to divide people over issues of race and sexuality. As I watched the news unfold, God spoke to me:
I was contacted by a K-12 school in Minnesota. The administrator and I had met in a small group online, and she had been reading my work at The Bohemian Princess Journal. She called and asked me to write her school’s entire curriculum.
With 75 committed families on the line, it just got serious. God started putting people in my path to partner with me in the vision. All of a sudden, I knew what to do and who to pull in to help make the best curricula possible for them. The biggest project of 2022 will be creating this curriculum.
Simultaneously over the summer and fall, I was busy networking with small businesses, local government, and non-profit organizations. God opened doors for me to walk into places I never thought I would go, and He gave me favor with important people when I went there. Out of those meetings came paying writing gigs and networking connections that would build into 2022 and beyond. From those opportunities came bigger opportunities to help my town and community in tangible ways including partnerships with Wayne Community College to bring classes into the community. That’s when God revealed another truth.
This year didn’t start out to be anything I thought it would be and, like George Bailey, I had some dark moments where I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. But God saw me and all the talents I was hiding and called me out of hiding forevermore. Rebecca J. Whitman Writing Services and The Bohemian Princess Journal are here to stay. I can truly say, now, that it is a wonderful life in Mount Olive.
I am not sure about God’s timing, but this year has taught me to discern God’s voice and follow it no matter what it tells me to do because there is always a reason for it. God has sent me on some crazy adventures this year and shown His hand in more ways than I can count. Here are some of the adventures slated for 2022:
Build a non-denominational Christian curricula for K-12 instruction that is also applicable to Adult Education
Launch The Bohemian Princess Journal into weekly podcasts on Mondays.
Streamline the content and change the look of the website; make blog posts follow a theme and post once a week on Fridays.
Work with non-profits, churches, and small businesses to write promotional materials and branch into social media marketing.
Please pray for the success of these adventures and consider donating to keep the work going.
May you be blessed and may God shake your own foundations and send you on new adventures in 2022.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
When Covid-19 happened, the world was turned on its head. People turned against each other and made a cause to fight even if there wasn’t one.
The buzz word everywhere became pivot. We all had to learn to think on our feet and be willing to change quickly to stay relevant. Our culture was evolving into a global one at levels of interdependence we had not experienced before. Instead of a few countries in partnership with each other, the entire world got hit with an invisible enemy and the need to work together to crush it.
In some ways, this was a good thing. People spent more time at home and got a reset on their values. Business increased as more people shopped online. The supply couldn’t work fast enough to keep up with the demand and now, going into 2022, we have shortages effecting every corner of the market. That means opportunities for work are opening across the globe in ways we haven’t seen before in years…perhaps even my lifetime.
We have seen the good and bad in humanity during Covid-19. While all these opportunities are presenting themselves, we also face them with polarized views about health-care, politics, race, and religion. Across the globe, human trafficking, domestic violence, and genocide have increased because of our isolation.
But hope still exists. International dependence also creates International awareness. We don’t have to struggle alone in the dark anymore. The world really is your oyster.
The Catfish Who Was Neither Cat Nor Fish
One morning I got a message through social media from a man I had never met before. I was used to men trying to catfish me on social media, so I had pulled my picture off all my accounts save this one. I approached the message a little guarded. What sort of person messages a lady at 2:00 in the morning that is NOT a catfisher? I thought. As it turns out, a married man on the other side of the world would.
E reached out to me from hiding in Afghanistan. He saw my connection to the Afghan Coalition and hoped I could help them get out. E was in the media during US occupation in Afghanistan, and he was actively promoting equal rights and democracy for his country. His wife, N, was a human rights activist helping women get legal protection from abusive marriages and education to start small businesses. If Wonder Woman were real, I imagine she would be like N.
I vetted my new friends, E and N, through channels of aid who could verify they were who they said they were and who could connect them to help evacuating the country. If I am honest, however, I was already invested in caring about them and wanting to tell their story to anyone who could help or make a difference.
We knew it was just a matter of time before the Taliban found and “detained” E and N. I feared the worst and worried that every word I wrote them in English risked their life. Thankfully, E was smart enough to delete the messages…but I still worry that our friendship is a threat to his safety.
After the Taliban assassinated his father-in-law and threatened him to stop advocating for western ideas in the media, E and N left their home and went into hiding. They have been living off their savings every since. This week, I asked E how much money he had left to live on and he told me: one month. One month before communication stops. One month before hunger becomes so real your body feels like it is eating you from the inside out. One month before two heroes fighting for the lives of their people cease to be.
Then E told me he had two gold rings he could sell to buy another month. I didn’t want to ask–I already knew–but he confirmed it. He would have to sell their wedding rings to buy more food.
Something about that just broke me. I couldn’t stop crying. For a whole day, I went to Christmas parties with my friends and shopping in the local stores all in a fog thinking about him. All the hustle and bustle of Christmas felt meaningless in the light of real suffering and loss on the other side of the world.
E never asks me for money. He blesses me and thanks me for my heart. Talking to me gives him a glimmer of hope in humanity. Talking to him reminds me why this blog exists.
Why The Bohemian Princess Journal Exists
There is beauty in multi-cultural awareness. God did not create us to live in silos or see the world through our own narrow set of lenses. There is so much more color in the world.
Like Jason Aaron’s version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, there is greater richness and understanding of the heart of God when we embrace other cultures in love. Embracing cultures–trying different foods and traditions not other religions–is at the heart of what Jesus Christ did when he walked the Earth. He loved on people in tangible ways and called people out on their faults when it was necessary. We need to do that too. Loving like Jesus opens the door for conversations that will lead to change, but it all has to start with that intentional hand reaching down to the drowning Peter and helping him up.
For me, those answers became my writing business and the heart of this blog. I chose to become more intentional in my writing and use this platform to make a difference and inspire change. So far, we have been able to reach into over 30 countries with our message, and we look forward to God using us to inspire others for many more years to come.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about stay-at-home moms, traveling writers, photographers, and techies starting blogs to earn money, but that’s not my story. My story begins in a little town in western North Carolina: Morganton. While visiting the town for the first time in 2014, I was overwhelmed with the warmth of the people; everyone had a story to tell and was eager to tell it. As a graduate of a prestigious writing program and a life-long writer, I felt a hunger to reconnect with the writer roots I had let go dormant. So the blog began.
I began writing on a private website for the students I taught in adult education. I shared the blogs with friends and family, but I still kept the words privately circulating amongst my friends and students for over a year. Nevertheless, the website got traffic and even pulled in business for some of the people I talked about on the blog. That’s when I decided to take it a step further.
Between 2014 and 2019, I blogged publicly on three different blogs and two class websites. I became well known for it and was even featured in a cover story by a local newspaper for my writing. I was writing in seperate places to keep ideas and branding seperate, but it became quickly overwhelming. In 2019, I decided to take stock of my blog inventory (over 50 blogs at the time) and define my content areas. Using the tools available to me through WordPress, I consolidated the blogs into one site under my name and organized the content by categories and pages.
2021 was a big year for us. Early in the year, I left over eight years of teaching to pursue other career options and, ultimately, start my own entrepreneurial business in writing. We finally gave the blog her own name, The Bohemian Princess Journal, and gradually increased publication frequency to weekly then bi-weekly posts.
Readership continued to grow. By the grace of God, in 2021 we crossed unimaginable boundaries. We were able to touch readers across the entire United States and over 30 countries with 10,000 views and counting.
Before the year was done, I had written more content in one year than almost all previous years combined. It is humbling to realize just how far I have come from the dormant writer I was in 2014 to the prolific book-length content creator I am now.
When God begins to show you your purpose and calling, there are some important steps you need to follow through with to help you keep on track to seeing those goals realized.
In this post, we will dig into the scriptures and discuss the importance of writing down your vision, guarding your influences, and avoiding dream killers.
Write down the vision and make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it because it will surely come; it will not tarry.
Habakkuk 2:2-3, NIV
Write the Vision
Physically writing is part of committing the message to memory for yourself and future generations.
Habakkuk is not the first or last time that God told someone to write something down. We see the same instruction to write given in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Revelation.
Did you know that Jewish synagogues all across the country open scrolls of the Torah during their Shabbat to read from the same selection of readings? Every year, they read the complete Old Testament (Torah) this way and remind themselves of the faithful character of God.
Physically writing stuff down matters. It creates a record to remember something important and it serves as a guide map to the road ahead.
Writing your vision is also submitting to the power and voice of God to fulfill it.
We know that the Bible is the unaltered word of God. We recieve it like a set of precious letters from our Father. We honor it as the guidebook of our lives. That is Biblically-based Christianity. But did you realize that we wouldn’t have that letter, that guidebook, if it weren’t for a series of people saying “yes” to writing it down?
In a similar fashion, God wants to partner with you to see amazing things happen in your life. It starts by seeking him, getting quiet, and listening.
For more details on hearing from God about your calling and writing it down, check out this blog.
Writing captures long-range goals and gives you an action plan to avoid common mistakes.
I love the practicality of the book of Proverbs. Solomon spent a lot of time giving advice on avoiding foolish mistakes. In Proverbs 29:18, he warned that lack of vision causes careless living. We know that mistakes are going to happen as we grow in discovering our callings, but we can avoid many of them by having a vision to focus on and commitment to Godly character as we grow.
Part of Habakkuk 2:2 said to write the vision down so the person reading it could run with it or implement it. When you have a written vision, it’s not just for you. People down the line will catch your dream and come along the journey to help you fulfill it.
Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Matthew 7:6, NIV
Guard Your Influences
Bad influences can be dream killers.
Especially when your dream is new, it is precious to you. Some days you want to share it with the world; other days you want to protect it like Gollum did the ring in Lord of the Rings.
You are not wrong to treat your dream like a precious pearl and protect it.
If you share your dream with someone who doesn’t believe in it, their advice can stop you from pursuing it altogether. If you share it with someone who doesn’t have the same heart as you, it can send you down the wrong path in how you pursue it. All of that really matters if you want to be successful and see your dream fulfilled.
Learn to discern the pigs in your life.
This lesson has been a hard one to learn, and I am going to speak directly to the artists here, but it really applies to anyone.
If you are serious about your art, your art is your business. As you build your business, it is important that you are careful about the culture you establish for your business by the people you allow to partner with you in it.
You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16, NIV
What you allow to speak into your business will breath life and make it grow, or it will kill it at the root. This is why I titled this post, Guard the Root!…it really is that important who you allow to influence you.
Develop an elevator pitch.
Not everyone you meet is going to be someone that partners with your vision, and that’s okay. You don’t need an army of followers to believe in what you do to make it successful.
Whether or not someone supports you, they still want to know what you do. This is what an elevator pitch is for. An elevator pitch is what you would say to a potential client/friend/family member/supporter if all you had was five minutes in an elevator with them. Think of it like your testimony in a nutshell. Tune in next week for more on how to write your elevator pitch.
Bottomline: Don’t tell everyone everything; give them the elevator pitch and listen to their heart. Pray for discernment to be able to know when something is not right and when you shouldn’t be listening to it. Don’t go past the elevator pitch or waste time listening to a resource that reveals it doesn’t support your vision.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalms 1:1-3, NIV
Gather Wise Counsel
Plant your root in the water of the Word of God.
We all make excuses about the amount of time we have to read the Bible, but that is all they are: excuses. If you want to be serious about your vision, you need to make sure it is a godly one, and you need to protect your heart while you pursue it. There is no other way to do that than through studying the Scriptures.
God doesn’t have a time requirement. He will take as little or as much as you can give him, but he does want your heart. Don’t just sit down with a Bible verse and think that is enough time to really answer your questions.
Let the Word of God be your primary resource for knowledge and wisdom. Take all your questions to God in prayer and seek answers in His Word. God will show up and answer you because he delights in the hearts that diligently and desperately seek Him.
Invest in doing the research and development of your craft.
Get a good concordance or index that can show you where topics are mentioned multiple times in scripture. Get a good commentary to dig deeper behind the meaning of the words you are reading. Most theologians start with Strong’s Concordance and Matthew Henry’s Commentary. I have a copy of both and reference them, but sometimes I get as much from the index and footnotes in my Bible. The key is to read the Bible in context and not take things to mean something they do not. Look for more about studying the Word in context in a future post.
Investment does not just mean money; it means time. Whether it is time reading the Bible or time learning a skill, your vision will need you to invest time in learning how to make it grow.
None of us are born with all the knowledge we need to be successful, nor can we accomplish success overnight.
Give yourself time to develop a network of support and encouragement.
Give yourself time to develop your business acumen and marketing skills.
Give yourself time to develop mastery in your craft.
Give yourself time to develop your working schedule and culture.
Give yourself time to develop steady clientele.
Glean from godly friends who are successfully following their visions.
When God calls you to something, it is important to find like-minded people who are living out their callings to encourage you in yours. They will have wisdom from their experiences to help you navigate through your journey with less stress and discouragement. This blog can be one of those resources for you. If you aren’t already a follower, make sure you join at the end of this post, so you don’t miss future posts. (It’s free!)
Godly friends are friends that are not perfect people but people who believe what you do about God and live transparently with their faith. They don’t tell everything to everyone; they share important things with a chosen few. They exercise wisdom and kindness; they greet everyone in genuine love.
Godly friends are not going to be just like you. They may be farmers, business people, healers, helpers, pastors, or servants. Whatever gift they are called to operate in doesn’t matter. What matters is that their faith and work ethics inspire yours.
If you would like to do a deeper dive on this subject, here are some additional scripture verses I would encourage you to read. Scriptures are listed in order of where they are found in the Bible.
2 Corinthians 5:12-21
1 Timothy 4:12
1 Timothy 6:20
God is calling artists everywhere to rise up and use their talents to bring Him glory. I have met writers, painters, musicians, sculpturers, dancers, gardeners, and bakers who have all caught the vision to use their talent for the glory of God. None of these people, by the way, were struggling, penniless, artists.
There is no short-cut to success, but God can anoint and bless your vision if you choose to believe and follow Him.
We all have different missions in life but, I believe, they all root back to a ministry of reconciliation on Earth (2 Corinthians 5:12-21). If what we are doing does not point people to Christ, it probably isn’t a godly vision for us to pursue.
I’ll see you next week! Until then, safe travels on your journey…
This is a challenge involving riding on a public transit bus and doing freewriting on your body. It is especially helpful for writers and artists to step outside their comfort zone. It helps to increase confidence about your work despite the criticism of the world around you.
First, grab some ballpoint pens or Sharpies (whatever instruments you feel comfortable using on your own skin).
Next, take a public transit bus for the full duration of it’s route. If you drive, park at a safe bus stop and ride the bus till it returns to your parking location.
Next, as soon as you sit down in your seat, take out your writing tools and start writing or doodling on your skin. The point here is to not over think it or pause for permission. Keep writing until you have covered all your exposed skin and/or you have reached your starting location.
Next, depart the bus and return home. Journal about your experience, how it made you feel, and what you learned from it. Capture images of the work on your skin.
Finally, share images and thoughts in the comments below from when you tried this challenge.
If you do not have access to a public transit bus, you can still accomplish the work of this challenge by doing the work in a public place. Pick a public park, library, or facility and commit a couple hours to sit or walk and write or draw.
The following is a guest post written by the author, Pamela Taylor, for the WOW blog tour promotion of her newest book.
From Dickens to Tolkien, from Molière to Gene Rodenberry writers through the ages have used their pen to comment on political and social issues of their era. Dickens chose stark realism while Molière opted for broad comedic satire. Tolkien embedded his message in a fantasy world; Rodenberry’s métier was science fiction. I don’t even pretend to place myself among that pantheon of authors, but I chose them to make the point that exploring challenging issues often succeeds best within the context of entertainment.
My primary goal in writing the Second Son Chronicles is to entertain readers. I hope they enjoy the journey of Alfred (the series protagonist) as much as I’m enjoying bringing it to life. But for those readers who like to look below the surface, there are some themes to be discovered. And for me, the past was a good, non-threatening setting in which to do so. I specifically chose the beginning of the Renaissance because it was a time when new ideas were spreading rapidly – and yet skepticism still abounded and those in positions of power were often quite happy to quash anything that didn’t fit their narrative of what the world should be.
The full series examines a wide range of social and political issues of the last fifty or sixty years. Modeling Alfred’s wife on some of the strong women of medieval and early Renaissance times allows me to explore women’s roles and rights. Having a less enlightened society bordering Alfred’s kingdom provides the opportunity to discuss cultural differences and questions of nation-building. The rise of the merchant class at this time in history is an excellent context in which to explore the growing influence today of big business. And the overall state of medicine at the time lends itself easily to the topic of health care.
Pestilence takes place at a time of serious upheaval for Alfred’s kingdom. The disruptions engendered by the new king’s authoritarianism highlight class divides and pave the way for the emergence of demagoguery, xenophobia, militarism, and neglect of basic functions of governing. What happens illuminates the very real human cost of a lack of social supports. And the situation forces those who still believe their duty is to the common good to find unexpected paths to achieve those ends.
My goal for the allegory underlying Alfred’s story has never been to be prescriptive or pedantic. I hope only to encourage readers to think.
As the dedication reads: “This series is dedicated to the hope that thoughtfulness, compassion, respect, and rational dialogue can triumph over bigotry, greed, mistrust, and self-righteousness to create a world that is truly a better place for all of humankind.”
Thank you, Ms. Taylor, for stopping by our blog today. Check out the blog tour for more posts and reader reviews. You can find our review here on July 1st.
We are back with Justin Williams Pope, journalist and writer of the Henry and Matilda’s Adventures children’s book series.
Justin visited us earlier in a live interview in October. We decided to follow up with him here to learn a bit more about his experiences.
Let’s jump back in!
On Education And Success
You have to dare yourself and challenge yourself to grow. If you don’t ask to do it, how will you know if you might get the opportunity? Most people miss out on these things because they are afraid to ask how they can pursue it!
Justin Williams Pope
You spent five years at Wayne Community College, in part, because you didn’t put your best foot forward in your work. What motivated you to take your education seriously?
My dreams and desires to be successful. I knew that Education was the only route for me to attain success in the area I wanted to be in and I needed to buckle down and get my education.
You struggled with a lot of different career path ideas before you ever left Wayne County. How did you focus enough to pursue a degree in Communications at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington?
I certainly did struggle. Honestly, I fell into communication studies due to my love for writing as well as my disdain for Math. I knew to be a Communications (Com) major, I could just take statistics and I could still pursue Public Relations or Journalism.
Looking back on the successes you have had so far, how important has college education been to your success as an artist in multiple genres?
A college education is invaluable because, if anything, classes teach you the best skill of all: time management. It may help teach you something specific to your major, yes. However, the biggest takeaway, in my opinion, of obtaining an undergraduate degree is the ability to manage and balance your time successfully. It is so important. Yes, you may have the skills, but if you don’t know how to manage the time you have, you can never obtain any degree of success.
What advice would you give to students like you that struggle here in their studies today?
Keep on keeping on. Take advantage of the tools and resources that are on campus: Writing Center, Math Lab, tutors, advisors, etc. to get advice from along the way. All of those are to your advantage in your educational journey. USE THEM.
You have an amazing gift for pursuing dreams and passions without fear of failure because you believe in yourself and know you can’t fail or succeed without first trying. You have not always felt this way. What helped you take such a positive approach to living your life?
You have to find that within yourself. I may not be the smartest person ever, but I have just enough about me to ask the question. For example, I think about how I ended up in the internship at One Tree Hill. I was folding washcloths at Belk one afternoon when I realized I was going to walk into my intern advisor’s office the next day and ask for that internship. Those more daring things have only served to assist in building my confidence. I also credit my yearning to know about things and to dare myself to do it. i.e – dangling nine stories up from the WFD fire tower or wading out into the intracoastal waterway without a lifejacket just to try to help find an endangered species. You have to dare yourself and challenge yourself to grow and if you don’t ask to do it, how will you know if you might get the opportunity? Most people miss out on these things because they are afraid to ask how they can pursue it!
On Journalism And Acting
There are many different types of writing, but you really fell in love with journalism from the beginning as a student writer and editor for Wayne Community College’s Campus Voice. What made you realize this career was one you really wanted to pursue?
I have two favorite mediums of writing – the first is that journalism/quasi-editorial of telling a story in a very interpersonal way. I had loved writing since 2nd grade and even when I look back at that now, I was writing very interpersonally then. I thank God for that talent and aim to use it to the best of my ability. If you can convey a story to a reader, you can change a life! The second type of writing is Public Relations writing. I love writing Press Releases. I excelled at this in college as it was a professional, clear-cut form of writing but if you can make it sound good and clean, it will wow your readers. It’s also nice to be on both sides: press release writer and then as a journalist, take that press release and create a story out of it.
Journalists used to take pride in telling well researched, honest stories that were meticulously fact checked and edited for typos. Today, simple typos appear in every article and journalists intentionally report false news as much as real news. What do you think is the cause of this change?
Sensationalism, unfortunately. I think Social Media has added to this as many people fancy themselves as journalists when they are not. Sadly, our world has changed with the advent of social media. We live in a 24 hour a day news, news, news and the need to fill space is there. Unfortunately, journalists are going so fast and there are so few of them for multiple platforms – on cam, on web, print, blog, etc. The medium is no longer just tv or the afternoon newspaper. As far as bias in journalism, all stories can be slanted to appeal to a certain audience or persuade a certain group. Or to make someone look bad. If you look back at a broadcast of the news from the 1970’s, Walter Cronkite reported just the facts of what happened. Today, journalists often insert their own opinion or feelings when they should just report the facts but they want to have their story clicked on so the word sensationalism comes to mind because ultimately, journalism is a business.
I remember pitching a story to freelance write for a local paper, and the editor took my idea and gave it to his own staff writers to complete. How competitive is journalism today and how can someone new get into it?
I feel like that was hi-jacking your idea and that’s not nice on that editor’s part to take your idea and give it to a staffer. I have never had that happen to me, yet. I feel like it is becoming harder and harder to break in as a freelancer in print media at least. There used to be 11 of us and we are now down to 3 in the Wilmington Market. Sadly, the newspapers are shrinking and the need for stringers are not needed like it was in previous years and there is just not the funding for them as advertising dollars are down.
You have said the landscape of journalism is changing as less and less readers buy print media and the publishers are converting to online subscriptions. How has this changed how writers are managed today?
In my market, I write about happy/community things so it has not affected what I do. I write about church anniversaries, school events, etc. As we have grown smaller in numbers, my area has increased. Years ago, I was only allowed to write for Pender County but now I cover all three counties. It has been a pro for me because I can cover all three areas but the problem is that if you are looking for immediate news, your phone is the go to. By the time the newspaper comes out, Trump has tweeted something new. The online version is the way to go for instant find out! I have not been asked to not cover something because I write about things that people will go to the box and pick up a paper.
How has the transition to online readers changed the types of stories you tell? Do you feel you have more or less readers now than you would have had twenty years ago?
No real changes on my story types. But size is much smaller than years ago. I used to write 850 words per story. Today – I cannot go over 350-375 or it will be cut. This is because reader’s attention span is much shorter and they will not take the time to read a longer story. I feel like 20 years ago – the print subscriptions were much stronger, but online has only increased and the print editions have decreased.
You were introduced to acting through local theatre here at Wayne Community College and, in the community, through Stage Struck Productions. One of the first things you developed to pursue a career in acting was a professional portfolio of pictures and acting experience. How important was this step towards opening the door in the acting world for you?
Eh. I never saw myself as an actor. I only developed my portfolio because I needed to as part of my senior seminar at UNCW. It was indeed helpful but it wasn’t the direction I was going in. Whatever you do, however, it is good to have a professional portfolio.
You had an internship with One Tree Hill in Wilmington. What you expected to be an open door into the world of performance art ended up being a dead end. How did you handle that seeming failure and reshape it into a positive experience?
I just kind of felt it wasn’t meant to be. There are times in life when you know that it just wasn’t meant to be and that another avenue will open up if you keep pursuing. I wasn’t going to act. I wanted to write but it didn’t seem to happen and now looking back I wouldn’t want it any other way.
You have a gap between your two front teeth that is a rather endearing identifying mark, but it hasn’t always been treated that way. What negative comments have you received about your appearance and how have you handled them without letting them derail you?
I find my gap inspiring and I never wanted to change it. I did have it closed in as it was once even larger. It was hurtful when I was told that I would never be on television because it was so large. But there are people with that opinion. I like to think of it as a unique thing because not everyone has it. I’m special!! And again, you just keep going no matter what!!!
You joined a Writers’ Guild to improve your opportunities in the field of writing. There are professional guilds for many artistic careers including acting and writing. What is a guild and how can it be beneficial for an artist to join one?
I never joined an actors guild, but I joined the Writers Guild. (It is good because) there are tons of resources that benefit a fledgling writer including agent opportunities and writer’s groups. It also gives you a professional standardization that resonates with those in the writing world.
You transitioned from acting to creating and hosting a show you are pitching to The Discovery Channel now. You proudly claim the show, Sacred Places, will be a lasting legacy of something good you will give back to the world. How difficult has it been for you to take on this role, and what has been your best help in fulfilling it?
I have had the good fortune to be able to utilize lots of resources to get this off the ground. My University of North Carolina at Wilmington resources as well as my Wilmington Star News background. The churches themselves are really the star of the show. They tell the story of our history and our time. I am just like the viewer, along for the ride but I am fortunate to be able to help share these stories with the audience and if picked up, hopefully the world. It has not been a hard task as it is something I love and I am thankful for the opportunity.
On Creative Writing
You may have the skills, but if you don’t know how to manage the time you have, you can never obtain any degree of success.
Justin Williams Pope
You have explored different types of writing including short stories, screenplays, and children’s literature. How do you determine what genre a story should be in?
It usually just starts with an idea in my head. It definitely varies as I have lots of ideas. I then use the clustering system to develop the idea and story. For my journalism stories, I use a set formula that makes it easier to write but still compels a reader in.
You were inspired to tell a travel story as a children’s book that is now a published, ongoing series about a country dog and chicken exploring historic locations in America. How do you determine locations for the series to explore while still making them believable journeys for your characters?
We have so many great places in America that I want them to travel too. The first book was a no-brainer. New York is not your average market – it is a global market so I wanted it to be a “larger market” book that would sale lots of books. As we search for new locations, I try to look at what may educate our readers as well as take them to a place of new exploration, somewhere that is fun yet still with great learning opportunity. Our 4th book that will publish in late 2020 will be in the mid-west and will be the first time we have adventured to that area.
Some of the best advice given to young writers is to write from what you know. You have done that with the Henry and Matilda’s Adventures series because you grew up on a farm (around farm animals) and used real people to inspire your work. How similar are your literary characters to the real inspiration for Henry and Matilda?
Henry and Matilda are best friends much like the real Henry (Me) and the real Matilda (my good friend Drucilla) are as we set out on an adventure to New York City. As far as what they are doing, the characters do take on a life of their own. I like to think of Henry as being very loyal and Matilda as being very sassy but they both certainly love their adventure.
As simplistic as a children’s story may be to an adult reader, it is actually far more daunting to write. What are the key factors that have to be considered when writing a children’s book?
A large part is being in harmony with your illustrator. You have to ask ‘can she draw this?’ Henry and Matilda’s illustrations are fantastic painted by a professional artist who met with me in depth over periods at the farm to capture what I wanted. The story is formulated as Henry and Matilda will always go on an adventure together, the artist is the one who brings my story and vision to life.
The market for children’s literature today is both saturated and competitive. How do you find and create a niche in that genre?
You follow through and don’t give up. You keep pushing and develop not only the story but if you want to last, you create a brand.
In the past, writers wanting to get published would submit work to publishers directly and wait to hear back. Over time, less and less publishers have accepted unsolicited work, and many of them have closed up their doors. You used an agent to help market and get your book published. How did you find an agent, and how has that helped you?
Any quality presentation would seek out assistance from the Writer’s Guild (yes, it costs money to do so) and their assistance is invaluable. The Writer’s Guild brings a prestige and professionalism to your work.
Many writers today are turning away from traditional publishing houses in favor of self-publishing and self-promotion. Presses like Amazon make it possible for writers to do their own layout and print only on demand as copies are sold. How has this made the world of writing better or worse as a whole?
I don’t think it has made it worse. I think it has actually provided an outlet for people who may just want to see their story come to life. They may have no interest in being a professional writer or a lifetime story teller. I think online has encouraged creativity and has allowed people to see themselves as an author. They may never make tons of money from it but they got their dream of having their book published.
Some writers feel they are not writers till they can write full-time and live off their writing income, but that is a pressure that often strangles creativity and is unrealistic for most writers. Do you feel writers shame themselves and each other into unrealistic goals?
The reality is that most writers have another 9-5 job until they can become professional writers in some medium. I don’t know about “shaming themselves”. I can only speak for me, and I look at it as a business just as much as it is a creative passion. Some writers can never discern the two.
Many writers benefit from the stability of a regular job and write around it. You currently write while working a 40-hour week in Public Relations in the healthcare industry. How has that job enabled you to be a better writer?
Both are so different – I’m looking at things from two opposite spectrums so I feel l can write from both arenas and it strengthens my writing.
Many of our readers are aspiring writers too (of all ages). What is your best advice to young, yet unpublished, authors?
Keep writing. Remember, that there is no plot that has not been done. What can you do to make it unique but sellable? Who is your target audience and follow the correct business steps to get published.
This concludes our two-part interview with Justin Williams Pope. You can find his Henry and Matilda’s Adventures series available wherever books are sold including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
We hope you were enlightened and encouraged by what was shared. Please leave a comment below and share how we have encouraged you and any questions you may have to continue the discussion.
I am here with Justin Williams Pope, Wayne County native and graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School and Wayne Community College. Justin and I went to college together, here at Wayne Community College, and followed each other to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Justin has a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and has made a successful life for himself pursuing his passion for writing and communication. He has come back to Wayne Community College (and this blog) to share a little of his story and knowledge of the writing industry and motivate us to pursue our dreams.
Justin, tell us a little bit about yourself and who you are.
Thank you for joining us!
We hope you found this event to be an encouragement towards your own life goals.
There is a picture of a pier on a wall where I work. It stretches out over a placid blue sea where grey clouds hover just above the surface in odd shaped boats and hearts. It is dusk and the lights are on. In the distance, yellow lights illuminate life on distant islands. My little pier is empty. It is illuminated just to look out on other shores where richer people than I are living richer lives than mine. It reminds me of The Great Gatsby.
In The Great Gatsby, a poor man fell in love with a rich girl and spent all his efforts to build riches to win her. Though she is married to another man, he still builds a mansion across the bay and looks out across the end of his pier to the green light beaconing from her house to his. It doesn’t end well, but the beauty of his love for her and his willingness to work hard for an impossible dream is an inspiration. It is what I think of when I think of the American dream.
Creativity is like that.
I used to think that words were endless. I would have no shortage of ideas to share or people to listen. Then I discovered new art forms.
When I was exploring painting, I made things up as I went along. I played with paint and glue and ketchup bottles and made my own Jackson Pollack-like painting with embedded words and pictures in the paint. People still stand in awe of that painting and want to buy it.
When I started baking castle cakes, I had a base recipe and experimented from there. I made a castle shaped cake that was split diagonally in half as chocolate and vanilla. I took it to a party and it became all the rage to do again and again in different flavors. I made homemade sorbets to pair with the cakes too. My favorite was a mixed fruit pair that tasted like Juicy Fruit gum.
A friend taught me how to knit and purl, and I was smitten. I took two sticks and started playing with yarn. I figured out how to cable stitch and create different knit textures. I made several scarves freestyling this way before I ever figured out how to read a pattern. It was something my more accomplished friend said she wouldn’t dare to do.
I have been actively exploring a great many creative gifts. It is my passion and my guilty pleasure, but I have learned it may be the reason my writing has gone silent from time to time.
I will let you in on a little secret: I don’t think creativity really leaves us. I think it migrates to other forms of expression. When I was painting and baking and knitting, I wasn’t writing as much. I left the words alone on the pier so I could go party in the greener pastures of my other creative endeavors.
Sometimes creativity in one area takes away from creativity in another. We have a dominant creative voice, for me, it is writing, and when we pull too far from it we start to miss it so much we aren’t whole till it is back in our lives.
Something else about creativity is that it takes discipline and hard work. It is easy to play with different expressions of creativity as an outlet; it is a whole different thing to hone one’s skills into a well-crafted art. We have to make time for ourselves to work on our gifts even when time itself seems to be working against us.
Sometimes creativity migrates; other times it hides. Doubt, stress, and the sheer responsibilities of life keep us from being our best selves.
I have a goal to blog weekly on this blog, seasonally on bairnsbard, and as needed on whitmansacademics. Every week that I got behind on my own deadlines to write made me feel like a failure. The guilt compounded till my words ran dry and over a month of blog posts passed me by. I regret that.
This post is written by Fiona Ingram as part of the blog tour for her latest book, The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. For more about Fiona or to join her blog tour, check out the information here.
Developing a children’s series is both rewarding and taxing for the author, and possibly gratefully welcomed by parents whose children suddenly discover a hero they can relate to and whose actions keep them riveted. Isn’t it wonderful when a child begs, nay, commands its parents to go out and buy the next in a favorite series because they ‘absolutely must know’ what is going to happen next? There are many children’s series currently on the market and perhaps many adults are reading them as well as their children.
Developing a children’s series is not an exact science and not a guaranteed road to writing success.
Sometimes an author will start out with an idea, and try to stretch the story over several books, but to no avail. They discover that when a story is done… it’s done! On the other hand, an author may find that the story takes off and grows into something that spills over the last two words (“The End”) and shapes itself into another and then another and then another book, before winding down to a great final climax. Yet another scenario is when the author creates a set of characters that have several adventures, each one clearly contained with a storyline. The characters have a particular history or set of circumstances to retain the familiarity for readers who keep coming back for more action.
Can a writer tell if the story has the potential for a series?
The plot will evolve naturally if the characters are appealing, and if their personal growth and development hold readers’ attention. Again, appealing characters are not worth anything if the action and conflict are not compelling. There must be a perfect marriage between plot and characters to sustain the strength of a series.
So why do children love an exciting series?
A gifted author will be able to create characters that readers can relate to, and either love or hate. The readers get to know the characters well as the action evolves and, as each book comes out, can explore something new about their heroes. Characters become friends to the avid young reader, who shares in the hopes, dreams and choices the characters make. Readers are amazingly loyal to their favorite characters, even though they may often disagree with the characters’ choices. A good writer can explore these further, enabling readers to begin to make their own choices, especially in a moral dilemma or emotional conflict.
Parents who make the time to read with their children, or who are interested in their children’s book choices, will be able to discuss these issues further. It’s a great way of dealing with ‘sticky’ issues because the discussion is less focused on the child and more on a fictional character. It may be easier for a child to express an opinion if discussing a topic via a character’s choices.
Sensible advice to writers
There are many good reasons why a first-time author should NOT start out with a series. But wait a moment, I hear you ask, aren’t you marketing your own books in a series. Yes, although I hadn’t planned on that initially. I thought I’d create lots of exciting, unrelated adventures for my heroes. But just after the halfway mark in Book One, things changed and the mythology behind the story grew and grew into almost a story on its own.
It was then that I surrendered and said to the characters, “Okay, you win, it’s a series.” Whereupon they all burst into mad cheering, especially the ones who made it into Book Two.
Perhaps writers shouldn’t set out to ‘create’ a series but rather let an original good story develop, allowing the characters and plot potential to determine the result.
About the Author
Fiona Ingram is a children’s author, but up until a few years ago, she was a journalist and editor. Something rather unexpected sparked her new career as an author—a family trip to Egypt with her mother and two young nephews. They had a great time and she thought she’d write them a short story as a different kind of souvenir…. Well, one book and a planned book series later, she had changed careers. She has now published Book 3 (The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper) in her middle-grade adventure series Chronicles of the Stone, with many awards for the first book,
The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, and a few for Book 2, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, and one already for Book 3! She also teaches online novel writing for aspiring authors and she finds that very satisfying. Relaxation time finds her enjoying something creative or artistic, music, books, theatre or ballet. She loves doing research for her book series. Fiona loves animals and has written two animal rescue stories. She has two adorable (naughty) little dogs called Chloe and Pumpkin, and a beautiful black cat called Bertie.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the mid-1980s, a young Andrea Barilla with brown wavy hair and wide eyes sits at a kitchen table nibbling on cookies and drinking Coke. In a nearby room, she watches her daddy talk to his clients about their life insurance. He’s one of the top salesmen in the company, and it’s not because he has charisma, it’s because he knows his clients’ kids. He knows their birthdays. He values them as individuals. The young girl smiles from the other room; she doesn’t even know yet that this moment is teaching her the secret that would later make her business.
Today, Andrea Barilla starts her coffee, grabs her planner, and steps outside in a pair of her favorite LuLaRoe leggings. “The best investment I made,” she says, “was my outside table because we so often have trouble getting outside in this line of work, and you need things to force you to get outside.”
Andrea Barilla is an established freelance editor and writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from UNC Wilmington and a BA in English from Westminster College in Pennsylvania. She is a member of several editing groups including the American Copy Editors Society, Editorial Freelancers Association, and Publishers Marketplace.
She has edited 300 health articles for Healthline.com, over 100 courses for Savanah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and served on the staff of three literary magazines, including Ecotone (now a national publication) and the trilingual El Protagonista in Puerto Rico. But if you ask her what she loves the most…it is the books.
Helping someone bring their book to life is like bringing a child into the world. It takes time and gentle nurturing care; it’s not something you want to rush through. It takes attention to detail like the ability to see how a punctuation mark can be misinterpreted in print.
I love working on books. I love critiquing projects, or discussing the big-picture issues of plot, characters, setting, etc. I love fixing things with copy edits—which can be very meditative and fulfilling too.
Andrea has edited book manuscripts (of various genres and types, including textbooks) for Stackpole Books; Paradigm Publishing (a division of EMC Publishing, LLC); Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc.; and individuals. One of the books she worked on, A Girl Named Nina, went on to win Best Young Adult Fiction Book in English at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. Andrea attended the 2016 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writing Conference and was a guest panelist at the 2017 Professional Networking Symposium at Westminster College. Andrea also loves to help clients create query letters and book proposals to pitch to agents. She keeps her finger on the pulse of the publishing world and helps her clients take their writing to the next level.
On Life As A Freelancer
Andrea starts her day the night before with coffee grounds ready to brew in the pot and her planner set up with her next day’s schedule.
“The beauty of freelancing,” she says, “is that you have your own routine and the freedom to do what works for you. Nothing is wrong as long as it makes you productive.”
For Andrea, that is a task-oriented schedule and whatever clothing makes her as comfy as possible. Outside with her coffee and planner, she centers her day around the tasks she needs to complete that day.
“Over time, I’ve learned how many pages I can edit in an hour and how long different types of editing take me. That’s a really great thing to learn because it helps you know how many projects you can take on and how to break them down to make them manageable.” When Andrea looks at her schedule, she sees the manageable chunks of the projects she is working on. She can decide which work needs her time the most and structure her day around the goals she has to complete.
“I try to balance my schedule with critiques and copy edits. They use different parts of the brain and require different levels of energy.”
One of the things that really helped Andrea early on was working with business coaches, particularly those with SCORE, a nationwide free and low-cost nonprofit supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). She worked with these coaches to create processes and systems to streamline the things she does over and over again in the business.
“I used to panic when I got an email,” she says, “now I don’t have to panic because having these systems, these templates, makes it easier and keeps my responses professional and pretty much the same for everyone, save a tweak or two. I’ve had people thank me for being so professional because of them.”
With potential clients, Andrea starts with a paid sample edit. She likes to show the clients what they will be getting with her services and the quality of the care and work she will give their project. She treats the clients and their work as gingerly as if it were her own; that is a lesson she learned from her father, and it is the lesson that keeps clients coming back to her for repeat business.
It took time for Andrea to learn how to determine her worth. “I can’t believe I am an editor,” Andrea says. “In grad school, I was surrounded by amazing authors and didn’t always give them my critiques in workshops because I didn’t feel I was worthy of giving them my opinion. It’s crazy to see where I am now versus then.”
When Andrea started her freelancing career, she thought she wanted to be a freelance writer. She would send out queries and pitches and wait anxiously for responses. Sometimes editors would take her ideas and give them to their own staff writers. It was very stressful. She had to try a lot of things to figure out what she was good at. One day she got a chance to take on a large editing job for Healthline.com. She wasn’t sure she could handle it, so she called me. I encouraged her to try because I knew she was capable of doing the work.
“I really thought I would fail,” Andrea says looking back, “but then I realized I could really do it and I enjoyed it. My whole career shifted to editing and it all hinged on one job I thought I couldn’t do until I tried it.”
On Bridge Jobs
“You’re going to have some failures,” Andrea advises, “that’s just a part of being an entrepreneur.” Nevertheless, she wishes that she would have kept a part-time job in the beginning when she was still trying to build up clientele. “There is nothing wrong with working another job while you are freelancing,” she says, “and many freelancers maintain part-time jobs for the consistent steady paychecks.”
Andrea has an hourly rate, but she didn’t charge much and even did a few jobs for free when she first started editing. “I wanted to put feelers out there and build up my confidence and portfolio,” she says. Confidence and time can help you learn how much to charge, but there are also reference guides to know where your prices should fall. The Editorial Freelancers Association website and the Writer’s Market yearly guidebook both have respected information about industry standard rates. Andrea used both of these to help create a list of rates and services that she offers. They also give her professional leverage when she is negotiating her worth with potential clients.
Making the Budget
Being your own boss can be exciting when you control your own freedom, but there is also a huge responsibility to acquire new clients to be able to keep the bills paid. Andrea keeps a spreadsheet to see exactly how much money she has coming in and how much she needs to make to stay ahead. She knows how much each current and potential project is worth, and the spreadsheet can help her determine what kinds of projects she should pursue. “It is not good to depend all on one project,” she advises, “you need to have a couple of projects going at all times.”
A key component of Andrea’s business is repeat business with clients she refers to as her “bread and butter” clients.
Andrea says, “you want consistent work from a few bread and butter clients coming in every month. That gives you a consistent revenue to work with and room to be a little more choosy about the projects you take on with the rest of your time.”
Though the field of editing can be competitive, Andrea’s organic approach is dependent on the fact that the quality of her work will create repeat business. “Try to build relationships with people who could become bread and butter clients. Try to build repeat business and, in that way, it isn’t about competition at all but about creating a product people want to come back for.”
Andrea does not worry about where the next source of income will come from; her faith directs her business. Andrea has been amazed by the way clients always show up when she needs them, and she credits this timing to her faith.
“I have a faith in Jesus Christ. I tithe and try to put Him first in my life. I don’t stress,” she says. “I know God will provide; He always does. Still, it’s up to me to do my part, and that means sowing seeds.”
Andrea advises that you should “constantly be sowing seeds” when it comes to your business. She is constantly making connections and networking with people who can become future clients. She also keeps a list of potential clients whom she can reach out to—for example, people who are working on books, people she has worked with before, and people she has met at functions. She always tries to get testimonials from happy clients that she can put on her website and point potential clients to.
In the world of freelancing, a lot of jobs are posted on job boards in organizations where freelancers maintain memberships. Jobs vary widely and are filled quickly from the boards. Many scammers also fill the boards with fake or low paying ads. Nevertheless, when you are just starting out, you try anything, and you take any job you can get.
There are safe ways to navigate through job boards now. Some of the advocates for their use recommend verifying the posters are verified accounts. Others avoid foreign posters entirely.
Andrea advocates trying as many things as you can, but she also advocates specializing in particular fields and learning what you do not want to work with. Specialization doesn’t mean you work in one area of interest only–sometimes you have to work outside your specialty. It does, however, bring you unsolicited business.
“Creating a reputation in an area is huge in this business,” Andrea says. “You become the go-to person for that area based on your reputation. Clients know to come to you.”
Experience has taught Andrea a lot in this business. She has learned what kinds of projects she will enjoy and what kinds of clients will be difficult to work with. She avoids the problem clients and the projects too-far outside her comfort zone, such as poetry. She navigates to books that she feels will make a difference in the world–especially memoirs, business and education titles, Christian living and inspiration, and literary fiction. She is able to sift through potential clients by the level of their commitment. “The people who are serious,” she says, “will be willing to pay the price and sign the agreements.”
Andrea has learned the hard way the value of having clients sign contracts. Without them, she experienced some clients disappearing mid-project and “ghosting” her on payment. “It is important to have contracts to avoid getting caught with people who will ghost you,” Andrea says.
Making Room To Write
Because Andrea is also a writer, one of the things she had to learn the hard way was not to take on work that is too similar to her own. In one particular project, she realized that it was “pulling energy away” from her own work.
Editing is usually relaxing for Andrea; it helps her maintain some mental space and energy for her own work. “I want to conserve energy for my own writing projects,” Andrea says, “and editing helps me do that.” If a project is too close to her own work, Andrea will now tell a client up front that she is not the best editor for their project. In the first few years of the job, Andrea didn’t have any time or energy to write her own stuff. Now, over eight years into her business, Andrea tries to keep one day in the week free to pursue her own creative work. She had a very popular relationship blog, and now she is working on a new Nonfiction project.
“It is really easy to let freelancing take over your life,” Andrea says. “It helps if you have some involvements that force you to get out and have a life away from work.”
Andrea maintains active involvements with social groups in her church and community. She also has a lot of friends who pull her away from her work when she needs it. She claims that the breaks help her avoid burnout, isolation, and loneliness that are often side effects of her job.
The Benefits of Freelancing
In 2013, Andrea’s aunt states away was diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, Andrea was able to go home and spend the last month of her aunt’s life with her. She was able to be with her family and go through the grieving process with them while she worked. She was never so thankful for her job than in that moment.
Andrea also loves the fact that she is learning something new in her job every day. “I get to work on fascinating things and I’m constantly learning and meeting really cool people from diverse walks of life,” she says. “I love that I’m always learning and that people are trusting me with their stories.”
I remember one of the earliest tasks I had in junior high school was to look up words in a dictionary that I did not know and expand my vocabulary. I couldn’t tell you now what some of those words were, but I can tell you they were hard. I remember the feeling of accomplishment as I learned them. I was getting smarter and the pride of knowing it made me feel better about myself than I knew was possible.
I remember the first time I started hiding my words. I was at a family gathering and everyone around me was talking in short, simple sentences. I remember thinking that my big words would sound out of place and snobbish if I spoke them there. I remember intentionally not using them so I could avoid hurting the people I loved. That was the beginning of my dumbing down.
Dumb down = to convey some subject matter in simple terms to avoid seeming condescending with technical or academic language; to become simpler in expression or content; to become unacceptably simplistic
I told myself that dumbing down was a good thing because I wasn’t making others around me feel bad; I never stopped to consider that I might have challenged them to better themselves. It never occurred to me that I was potentially causing more harm than good.
I remember when diet food first started coming out. It was all the rave to find chocolate in low calorie, low fat versions. We thought all of these options made chocolate more approachable for those of us who found extra pounds in the real thing. But no matter how good a bar or cookie or cake looked, it was but a poor understudy for the real thing. It left you wanting the real thing even more.
When you oversimplify something, you create a distorted view of the truth and you set yourself and others up to believe the lie that something is not as important as it really is. When I dumbed down my language, I trivialized the importance of education and intellect. I robbed myself and others of the beauty of my work by removing its refined, subtle, and complex qualities.
I let shame and fear hide my intellect because I thought a simplified version of myself would be more inspiring and relatable. But when I think of the people I have found inspiring and relatable, I realize they were all people who were not afraid to be themselves and strive for excellence in their particular set of skills. They challenged others and bettered the world not by downplaying their gifts but by intentionally sharpening them. I believe that is what we are all called to do.
What are you gifted at doing?
What are you doing to better yourself in those areas?
Just how important is reading in the life of a busy adult today? Can reading help you be a better writer? How do I become a better writer without surrendering my originality? I used to have all those questions and more about reading. This post is my attempt to answer them.
It is a not-so-hidden fact about myself that I love to read. I read books all the time, in every spare minute of my time, on trips, at home, in the day, and at night. The bare white pages freshly inked with words are a magical aroma better than any perfume. I can go anywhere in a book. I can be anyone in a book. I have an unlimited passport and a free ticket to wherever I want to go in a book. I live to experience these moments.
Or, I should say, I DID…
Until I grew up.
There is something about grownups that’s gone terribly wrong in the world. Somewhere between high-flying fairytales and real-life careers, we have forgotten how to dream anymore. Heck, we work so hard we barely sleep anymore. Worst of all, we stop reading–apart from the latest status updates on social media and the mandatory readings for our careers, that is.
But did we really run out of time or did we run out of love? Where did the love of reading go?
In the home stretch of my Master’s degree, my love of reading got sucked up in all the boring mandatory texts I had to read for my career. I’ve read more textbooks and articles than I can count–I’ve written some too–but I can’t remember past the highlights of a few of them.
After college and in my career, I found my way back to reading through audiobooks. The commute became my favorite part of the day because my head was filled with the skilled craftsmanship of my peers: other writers. Something happened to my heart and mind in all that reading time. Books were strengthening my spirit and honing me in my skill.
When I became a remote worker and the commute went away, reading became something I had to be intentional about. I couldn’t listen during a Zoom meeting. I couldn’t listen while processing through writing. But that didn’t change the fact that this was still a very important part of my life and learning.
I couldn’t always give it the same quantity of time per day, but any amount of time I gave it made me stronger and more focused. I also discovered that I could read self-help books better when I had the physical book in my hand, so I used this intentional time to help me get through some books that were more like textbook pills for me to swallow.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.
Writers have a lot of opinions on what it takes to be a writer, but more often than not, they all agree on this point: you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader first. For more quotes from writers on this subject, check out Austin Kleon’s blog.
I used to wonder why I struggled so to read self-help and textbooks, but I could remember full plots and details of the stories I read and loved. What’s the difference? The difference is love. When you find a genre that resonates with you, embrace it. It may be that it will speak life into the work you are supposed to do down the road. Either you will write for that genre or it will be an inspiration for what you do in service to your community.
The people and places and things we see and do and say that we enjoyed, leave a mark on us. We are shaped by these moments of pleasure as much as we are the moments of pain in our lives–if not more. When I look back on a childhood filled with books, I see a life full of adventure and joy.
Adults have to make a conscious effort to read for fun today. Turn off the TV and pick up the book. Skip the talking heads and play the audiobook on your daily commute. Share the experience; sit and read a book to a friend. I promise you will get more out of it than all that other stuff. I am.