Writer’s Write


I write because I must. Writing for me is like breathing, like thinking. It has been a saving grace since I was eight-years-old writing plays where characters said and did all the things my religion deprived me of enjoying. Writing, as a young woman, saved my sanity.

All my life, all I’ve wanted to be was a writer. I’ve wanted to share my passion for literature, share my observations and analysis of common experiences, and share my unique experiences, but if self-promoting is essential to this, forget it.

I mulled this over as I went out for an afternoon power-walk. I was walking home from the bank when it suddenly occurred to me that the God had sent me to train with a master self-promoter. My last supervisor was a pain in the ass because she insisted on writing her own press releases while I insisted on doing the work I was allegedly paid to do. She knew what she wanted to say and found it quicker to write her promotions her way than to answer my questions and wait for me to pen a press release. I hated this. I had, after all, by then published hundreds of newspaper articles and two books. As much as possible I tried to beat her to the punch, anticipating news and drafting press releases before she could get started, but we often ended up with her doing her own thing.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that it was training for work I would need to do for myself until I can afford to hire a p.r. expert.

Penning my own press releases may even force me to break a life-long habit of self-deprecation. It will train my brain on what is best about me and the literary gifts I pen.

I recently completed my first novel, and felt transformed from bitter to neutral to soon-to-be-all-out-grateful for what had felt like two years of hell. Writing about the experience helped me detach and see incidents as just that – incidents. It helped me put the incidences in context. It helped me see the “enemy” as just a character, an antagonist. It helped me see myself as just a character, a protagonist, who had to mature by the end of the experience.

Figuring out how to promote this story promises to be rewarding, as well. Already market research has showed me my experiences, as challenging and tragic as they felt, are much more common that I knew. I am looking forward to the other many rewards from this process.

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The Difference Between a Writer and Author


Posted on March 30, 2011 by sonsyrea

What’s the difference between a writer and an author?

I was delighted to consider myself a writer, having published hundreds of newspaper articles and two books with major publishers. Then I heard Zane’s opinion that the difference between a writer and an author is the personality quotient. An author has to have a marketable personality, she says. Now, coming from a woman who publishes books and has sold her own books to the tune of NY Times best seller status, that struck me as instructive.

There is a reason why so many great, well-researched, well-written books never even get published. A reason why many great books never make best seller lists. Half of the job is selling the book and, yes, it takes personality, charm, and a whole lot of other things to sell the book. I have picked up books from bargain bins, books I never saw reviewed, books I had not heard of on the internet, books that were great because they offered some novel perspective I had not considered, offered something that solved an internal conflict for me.

Now I’m inclined to get a good old fashioned dictionary and compare the definitions of writer and author. Thinking of the definitions, I am considering that a writer is one who writes and an author is one who has gained a level of authority on a subject or an experience. In fact, speaking of authority, just this morning I was thinking about how important it is for me as a writer to seek more authority of my characters and their internal conflicts and high hopes. That would mean more research and interviews.

It occurred to me this morning that in my first memoir, when I wrote about losing my beloved granddad, and the impact that had on me, I had not explored the emotional impact it had on my grandmother, who had lost her husband of 20-plus years. That came to mind this morning as I considered how my current experience of loss and grief will help inform my writing in the future. As a writer, I wrote the basic details of the experience: who died, when, why, how it made me feel. As an author I can establish more authority of that experience by exploring – and sharing – the emotional and psychological ramifications of the experience.

What do you think?

 

on March 24, 2011 by sonsyrea

We discussed social media best practices for authors during a conference call yesterday. It was one of the weekly calls Strebor authors have where we exchange information, encourage each others, and get a chance to ask the publisher and our publicist questions as a group. Something said during the conversation resonated long after I hung up. The publicist talked about the necessity for authors to self-promote. No, this was not news to me. I knew it. I tried it. I concluded after more than ten years that I simply was not good at it. Since this is what it takes to succeed as an author, I considered, I may as well die.

I write because I must. Writing for me is like breathing, like thinking. It has been a saving grace since I was eight-years-old writing plays where characters said and did all the things my religion deprived me of enjoying. Writing, as a young woman, saved my sanity.

All my life, all I’ve wanted to be was a writer. I’ve wanted to share my passion for literature, share my observations and analysis of common experiences, and share my unique experiences, but if self-promoting is essential to this, forget it.

I mulled this over as I went out for an afternoon power-walk. I was walking home from the bank when it suddenly occurred to me that the God had sent me to train with a master self-promoter. My last supervisor was a pain in the ass because she insisted on writing her own press releases while I insisted on doing the work I was allegedly paid to do. She knew what she wanted to say and found it quicker to write her promotions her way than to answer my questions and wait for me to pen a press release. I hated this. I had, after all, by then published hundreds of newspaper articles and two books. As much as possible I tried to beat her to the punch, anticipating news and drafting press releases before she could get started, but we often ended up with her doing her own thing.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that it was training for work I would need to do for myself until I can afford to hire a p.r. expert.

Penning my own press releases may even force me to break a life-long habit of self-deprecation. It will train my brain on what is best about me and the literary gifts I pen.

I recently completed my first novel, and felt transformed from bitter to neutral to soon-to-be-all-out-grateful for what had felt like two years of hell. Writing about the experience helped me detach and see incidents as just that – incidents. It helped me put the incidences in context. It helped me see the “enemy” as just a character, an antagonist. It helped me see myself as just a character, a protagonist, who had to mature by the end of the experience.

Figuring out how to promote this story promises to be rewarding, as well. Already market research has showed me my experiences, as challenging and tragic as they felt, are much more common that I knew. I am looking forward to the other many rewards from this process.

What’s In Your Hand?

Yesterday, out the blue, Adam Clayton Powell’s famous, “What’s in Your Hand Speech” came to mind. I remembered happening upon his speech about 15 years ago, during one of what would become a series of my mini-retirements (more on that another time). I had been in line at a library when I noticed a documentary on him on a shelf nearby. I grabbed it, and when I watched it, I was so blown away by the clip of his speech at the end, I rewound it over and over again. I jotted it down verbatim in my diary and memorized it. I loved it so much. It was a call to political action, an attempt to jolt people from apathy.  But I imagined it could be an inspiring call to personal and professional action, as well as a call to celebrate the gifts that we have.

I imagined using it in a speech I would give someday, challenging beauticians to realize they held in their hands the gift of making others beautiful, calling teachers to realize they have the gift of guidance and instruction. Everybody’s got a gift and often we don’t fully appreciate what we are giving right where we are.

I once envied a friend who made six figures as a personnel specialist. He lamented that he had no special gift. Money isn’t everything, he said. He prayed for God to show him his special gift.

“Are you kidding?”I asked. “Not only are you making money, as in adding value to your own life and by extension the lives of others you give presents to, causes you donate cash to, your church, which is sustained partly by your tithes and offerings. You have the gift of modeling a level of success that is possible. Plus, in your job you help match the right people with the right opportunities. That’s a gift!”

Of course, he was thinking of an artistic gift. He admired my gift of – and passion for – writing. He said he envied that I could be content in a corner anywhere with a pen and a notepad or journal. Of course, I did not see what I had as a gift because as much as I love journaling – and now blogging – there’s no money attached to it – yet. It can’t be a gift without monetary value, right? Never mind the peace of mind, and what we now call “psychological income.” That doesn’t pay the mortgage, right? At some point it will.  (I have complied trunks full of journals, that I am now considering a gold mine for novels.)

This morning I tuned in to hear Steve Harvey’s morning testimony, something I’ve enjoyed at least two years now. I enjoy “witnessing” him share his love of God with his audience of millions. At the end of his 12-minutes of testifying this morning, he talked about gifts God gives us all.

“He gives a lot of people a gift. Some are not using it, now they’re life ain’t what they want. But, guess what? You made that call,” he said in all his sassiness. “You know how to cook, but you won’t bake a pie. You’re funny, but you ain’t on stage. You can sing, but you ain’t got a record deal. You can counsel, but you ain’t took up social work. What you want God to do? You the best painter, but you ain’t got your art displayed no where…That’s crazy.”

I considered the coincidence of recalling Adam Clayton Powell’s speech on using God’s gifts and hearing a similar message from Steve Harvey this morning an interesting enough coincidence to follow it somewhere. I googled Adam Clayton Powell and found a clip of him giving his speech on YouTube. I listened and not only felt inspired all over again, I felt compelled to share the inspiration.

Here is the text of Powell’s famous “What’s In Your Hand” speech:

“As far as I know, here, you’re in trouble. It says you’ve got about 30 percent unemployment. That’s why I’m working hard to get this surplus food here. Some of you say to me, ‘well, I’m not like you. I’m not a congressman. I haven’t got education. I haven’t got work. But you’re a human being. And you know what you’ve got? You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those few cents you get from welfare to spend them only where you want to spend them.” The crowd applauded and cheered. “A young slave boy stood one day before the greatest ruler of his day. And God said to Moses, what’s in your hand? And Moses said, ‘I’ve got this stick, that’s all.’ He said, well let me use what’s in your hand. And God used that slave boy with a stick in his hand to divide the Red Seas, march through a wilderness, bring water out of rocks, manna from heaven, and bring his people to freedom land. What’s in your hand?”

“What’s in your hand! George Washington Carver, who was so frail that he was traded for a broken down horse as a slave boy, and George Washington Carver sitting in the science laboratory at Tuskegee told me, he said, ‘Dr. Powell, I just go out into the fields each morning at 5 o’clock, and I let God guide me, and I bring back these little things and I work them over in my laboratory.’ And that man did more to revolutionize the agricultural science of peanuts, and of cotton, and of sweet potatoes than any other human being in the field of agricultural science.”

“What’s in your hand? Just let God use you that’s all. What’s in your hand!!!!!!!” he boomed. “I’ve got a string in my hand, that’s all, and I’m flying a kite, and way up in the heaven’s lightening strikes, and I Benjamin Franklin, discover for the first time, the possibilities of electricity – with a string in my hand. What’s in your hand!!!!! Little hunch-back sitting in a Roman jail. ‘I haven’t got anything in my hand but an old quill pen. But God says, ‘Write what I tell ya to write!’ And Paul wrote, I have run my race with patience. I’ve finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. What’s in your hand little boy!!!!” ‘All I’ve got is this slingshot, but the enemies of my people are great and big and more numerous than we are.’ Well Little David, go down to the brook and pick out a few stones and bring them back, and put them in the sling shot and close your eyes if you want to and let them go. And David killed the enemies of his people, and his people became free, just letting God guide a stone in his hand. And a few years pass, and David is King. And God says, ‘What’s in your hand?’ And David says I’ve got a harp. And God said then play on your harp. And he played, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. What’s in your hand!!!!!”

Now here was my favorite part.

“A man hanging on a cross with two nails in his hands said ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw thy hand from me, whither will I go. And that man with two nails in his hands split history in half, B.C. and A.D. What’s in your hand tonight? You’ve got God in your hand, and with God in your hand, He’ll let you win because he’s on your side, and one with God is always in the majority. So, walk with Him and talk with Him. And work with Him and fight with Him. And with God’s hand in your hand, the victory will be accomplished, sooner than you dreamed, sooner than you hoped for, sooner than you prayed for, sooner than you imagined. Good night and God bless.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuZjcd7t-sE&feature=related

Gift of Patience

I went to a Christian Family bookstore to buy a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life” leather bound journal on sale. As usual, I came away with much more than I bargained for.

While standing at the counter to pay for the journal, impatiently awaiting a store clerk’s attention, I noticed Juanita Bynum’s newest book and began browsing through it.  I grew more impatient, however, as the clerk continued chatting with a customer on the other side of the sales counter. A customer was asking about books and movies to reach her friends who were not Christian. She wanted to give them her beliefs in a way they might accept them. It didn’t sound like they would be ending their chat anytime soon, so I rudely interrupted them.

“Um, excuse me. Is anyone working the register?” I yelled across the counter.

I realized I was being rude, but I had half a dozen tasks on my to-do list, and I needed to complete my errands and be home in time for a scheduled call. The clerk explained that his colleague was handling a UPS delivery and would return to the counter to ring me up soon. I sighed in frustration, but decided to make the best use of that time waiting by reading a couple pages in Bynum’s book.

By the time the store clerk arrived to ring up my purchase, I had calmed down. She smiled and apologized for the delay. She explained that the book I was browsing was on sale for $5, and the books and movies on the table behind me were $5, too.  I grabbed a movie I had wanted to give as a gift.

“Five dollars?” I asked, holding up a copy of the movie, “Fire Proof.” I remembered that most sales like this have limits, though.

“How many can I get?” I asked the clerk.

“As many as you want,” she answered, still smiling.

I bought the journal I went in for, paid $5 for Juanita Bynum’s new book, and $5 for the movie I had wanted but thought I could not afford.

“Have a blessed day,” the woman said as I turned to leave.

“I already am,” I told her, returning her smile. “You just blessed me in more ways than you know.”

As I was leaving I noticed a small child standing in line with her mother. The child couldn’t have been older than three or four.

“Look at her! She’s so… patient!” I said to the mother, who also was standing their patiently waiting her turn, holding a baby in her arms.

As I walked back to my car I thought about when I became so impatient. I certainly had not been born that way – or raised that way. I had worked in rush-rush-deadline-driven professions.  As a news reporter everything had to be done in a hurry. As a Congressional communications director media requests had to be acknowledged, processed, scheduled, and completed quickly. My paycheck – livelihood – depended on it. Rush. Rush. Now. Now.

My days don’t have to be rushed right now. Could it have been God’s divine order to slow me down and bring me back to my senses? Perhaps. Rush-rush-do-it-now…or not!

Are you the one in line in a hurry, or the one standing waiting patiently? Is your rushing a force of habit? Are you trying to do too much in too little time? Can you get off the treadmill? Have you stopped to think of what you might be missing in the rush of it all?

Bet on the Beach

Initially published early September 2011

I returned to my favorite local beach last weekend to make sure it was still in tact after a mild earthquake, a near-historic hurricane, and a week of flooding rains hit. Yep. It was still there, its adjoining park freshly manicured, greener and more lush than during the dogged days of August. I watched a dozen children frolicking in the river.

“It feels good!” one boy of about eleven reported, welcoming his friend.

A butterfly fluttering by caught my attention and I considered that in a couple of weeks summer will end and the butterflies and other summer pleasures will be gone. I enjoyed this beach, Hillsmere Beach, a community beach located in Anne Arundel.

Swoosh…

The swoosh…swoosh of the river licking the shore, the tweets and intermittent squawks of the birds mingled with the children’s delight, sounding off a perfect concert bidding farewell to the season.

A boy, who appeared to be a pre-teen, rode up on his bike and was greeted with a dare by his friends. He had gone home to change into swim trunks, and returned ready to take on the river. He rode his bike to the rockiest edge, and his friends dared him to jump off the rocks.

I noticed a slimy film in one area and wondered how the children could have so much fun in such obviously filthy water. They were careless and carefree.  Watching them, I was reminded of the joys of youthful oblivion. They did not care about foul fish, possibly dead fish in the water or water snakes or dangerous sea creatures.

The boy on the bike looked over the rocks debating only how he would enter the water – off the rocks on off the smooth sands.

“We saw a jelly fish this big,” one of the friends said. The boy on the bike seemed undaunted.  “My sister will give you $25 if you jump in,” the friend added.

Privately, I bet the boy on the bike would take the dare. I was happy when he thought better of it. He parked his bike, pulled on his goggles and waded safely in off the sand.

After a rather stressful week in a new job, I felt refreshed just watching the children splash and swim and pull and tug on each other in the water. I wished the Anacostia River in my hometown, D.C., was clean enough to refresh a community. I can do more than wish for this, thanks to organizations currently working to clean and restore the Anacostia River. I can join – and invite you all to join – upcoming clean-up campaigns.