A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Some people believe only in coincidences, rather than think God might have some master plan for their life.  I feel sorry for those people. They miss out on so much. Their life is closed to the possibilities God might have in store for them. This past year, with all the doors that have opened to me, feels like a carefully orchestrated plan from above, and if I but remain open to the divine, I expect no less for 2012.

A couple of days ago, I wrote down these words from Mary DeMuth’s memoir, Thin Places:

“I have this little idea that worms its way through my head, that perhaps God is redeeming my father’s writing through my pen. He’s completing my father’s genius in me, but He’s doing it through my own frailty. I’m no genius. I’m a mess half the time. But God’s great work of redemption spans the generations. When I put words to the page, I wonder if my Dad can see me. Does he smile?” (page 70)

I have wondered something similar since my mother’s death. My mother had many talents; among them woodcarving, sewing, painting, and drawing. The writing that she did later in life held the promise of talent as well. I never pictured her as a writer until after her death, though surely anyone who spends months on manuscripts is, indeed, a writer. That she did not live long enough to perfect that talent saddens me. In a couple of weeks I will be teaching a course for a community college, Writing for Publication. While interviewing a woman in her 80’s for the newspaper, I discovered she had written down pages of information in anticipation of our meeting. Without thinking, I gasped at the sight, “Why, you’re a writer!” The woman blushed with pleasure, and told me she had filled notebooks with memories for her children. “Mom writes down everything,” her daughter interjected, “I don’t know what we’ll do with all of it after she is gone.”  I told the daughter I owned a trunk full of my mother’s writing, and I hoped to do something with it someday. Even as I spoke, the image of my mother submitting to publishers and editors was vivid in my mind, and I felt like crying. She had so little published, but she stubbornly persisted. While I’d thrown out one notebook of carefully transcribed rejections, I kept the tangible proof of her continued submissions; the carefully typed drafts that had been mailed out to such places as the Chicken Soup publishers, the ones I have recently had three essays accepted by. My mother possessed the very stubbornness I saw in this woman’s face as she confessed she’d hoped to have something published someday. Her daughter seemed taken aback at this admission; she must have thought her mother’s scribbling had only been intended for the family’s posterity.

“Someone should give you a writing class for a Christmas gift,” I said then, with a meaningful glance at the daughter.  A week later, the woman called me on the pretense of complimenting my article, but the true meaning of the call became apparent when she blurted out, “I’m going to take your class.”  I could literally feel my mother’s smile when I assured the woman it is never too late to get published.

The day after I read Mary DeMuth’s Thin Places, an e-mail arrived in my inbox with a New Year’s challenge from the author. “If God were to give you a picture this year in anticipation for 2012, what would it be?” she asked, and then she shared her picture. It didn’t take me long to come up with a picture to frame my year. In fact, I would have to be blind not to have seen the obvious choice. What photo was on the front of the journal I’d written DeMuth’s quote in? What picture was on the personalized stamps I’d used on two letters that morning?

Where had I been writing most of last winter and early spring? I’d grieved, I’d dreamed, and I’d been inspired at the very table and in the very house where most of my mother’s creativity had flourished. On one of my many trips to my mother’s empty house I’d snapped a photo of my private writing retreat, and the memories of those writing sessions will continue to sustain me in this journey of faith I am taking. For it takes true faith to follow one’s passions and believe there is a future in the world of writing words. “Don’t quit your day job,” I’ve heard as advice given to writers, but writing is my day job. Income from writing, teaching, and public speaking is crucial to my family’s well-being. And as much as I know my hard work in writing and promoting has paid off in filling a 2012 calendar with deadlines, classes, and public speaking, I truly believe none of it could have happened without my faith. I believe God has a plan for me, and I am excited to see where he takes me this year. This photo will be my chosen guide this year.

Because with each article published, with each success, I can look at this photo and know HE is a part of it. HE is with me, and maybe, just maybe, my mother is too.

What do you picture for your life in 2012? Do you have a photo that inspires you?


Honor Thy Mother

When I completed my most recent Christmas “Manchester Memories” (interviewing senior citizens about their memories) column for our local paper, I found myself wishing my mother was around to interview. She would have been a font of memories for the subjects I have covered thus far; back-to-school, canning and gardening, Halloween, and Christmas.  She would have loved both the reminiscing and the media exposure.

It has been more than a year, and my heart still aches with thoughts of her.  I miss her.

None of the people I interviewed had a photo to submit, but one had a Christmas card he hoped would be included in the article, sent in 1944 from the ship Grayson.  I flipped through many photo albums looking for a picture of my mother at Christmas. 1950s photos weren’t appropriate for the 1930s theme, but I did find a photo of my mother as a little girl, standing next to a doll on a rocking chair.  I had no way of knowing the truth of the statement I submitted along with the picture to my editor, but I cannot tell you the thrill I got seeing my mother’s cute little girl facing staring back at me when I opened the newspaper yesterday. Normally I would skim my article to see how it reads in print, but this time I didn’t even care about what I’d written; my joy was in seeing that photo.

Consider this: I’ve had several essays included in Chicken Soup books in the last few months, but it is the short memoir that will be included in the February-released So Long: Short Narratives of Loss and Remembrance from Telling Our Stories Press that I am even more excited about. Why? The short memoir includes essays about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, her subsequent death, and the months of grief that followed. When sample galleys were sent to me to review, I immediately scrolled through the pages until I spotted the photo of my mother that was indeed, going to be included.  I smile every time I think of it. My mother would be pleased.

Much of my writing has become a way of honoring a creative mother who encouraged me to use my talents. It is only fitting, then, that I occasionally include her in my essays and articles.

Even when I sneak a photo of her into an article on Christmas memories. The dolly and rocking chair may very well have been homemade and a Christmas gift. Or not. But that cute little face? It definitely adds something to the column.


Five Important Lessons I Learned at Writer’s Conferences This Year

Five weeks.

According to my calendar, it has been five weeks since I returned home from the HACWN Writer’s Conference, and I still haven’t had time to process everything I learned. I do know I would highly recommend that writers attend conferences. This was only my second conference ever but both were amazing experiences I won’t soon forget and hope to repeat in 2012.

So, what exactly did I learn at these conferences, and how have I implemented the advice and inspiration I netted?  These are the five main areas I, and every writer, needs to work on in the coming year;

#1 Writers, especially non-fiction writers, need to build up their platform.  I’m working at this one, so that by the time my book is sold my platform will be broader and stronger. I have couponing workshops set up in the beginning of 2012 as well as a new column appearing in a larger newspaper. I’ve also got queries out to some national magazines for articles on my subject of interest.

#2 Non-fiction writers should make themselves an expert.  Not only have I started a second blog that centers on my book’s subject, CrazyCouponer.blogspot.com, but I will soon be writing a regular column for a larger newspaper on the subject of couponing. I have several upcoming couponing workshops set up, as well.

#3 If God opens a door, walk right through it.  I love this advice. God has been opening many doors for me this past year, and while initially, I was somewhat hesitant to discover what is on the other side of the door (public speaking, coupon workshops, interviewing people for feature articles) I am finding that I love all of it! After I did my first coupon workshop and the coordinator was walking with me to the parking lot, she mentioned sending the check on the 16th and I blurted out, “Oh, yeah, I forgot I get paid to have this much fun!”  When a newspaper editor e-mailed me, as a coupon expert, and asked if I would meet with him, I didn’t know what he had in mind, but I didn’t hesitate at all. I was eager to meet with him, and that meeting might well develop into a regular column for their paper.

#4 Don’t hide your light under a bushel. This is a bit difficult for me. It doesn’t come natural to me to toot my own horn but I need to be able to promote my writing and my classes.  Why should anyone take a  coupon workshop or a writing class from me? If I can’t tell them, who can? So I write the class description that includes my qualifications, include a glowing bio along with my essay submissions, and hand out business cards and learn to talk about myself and my work. It is getting easier, and I remind myself; if God gave me the talent to write and talk, why would he want me to hide either? I also remind myself to always use those talents for good, not evil.

#5 Keep your blogs updated; twice a week or more.  I’ve done pretty well on that front for the last couple of years but now my time is torn between two blogs and I’m afraid I’ve sluffed off recently. Certainly I can get back on track after the holidays. One workshop presenter suggested posting a photo or a favorite saying during those weeks when you can’t seem to get a decent post written.  I’ve dug in my files many times for articles and essays I’ve written that were never published, and used those when I am low on time and inspiration, but haven’t resorted to a simple photo or quotation too often. I’ll likely have to consider doing so as I get even busier.

After last week’s lament about not getting my Christmas letter written, I could have posted the final product for those not on my list.  Perhaps I’ll do that if my inspiration well runs dry the rest of this week.