Category Archives: Writing Resources

5 Things to Remember Before You Self-Publish

In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced.

Technological advances have enabled this growth – from print-on-demand technology, to online retailing and technological advances such as e-book readers and tablet computers.

And, many best-selling authors are now choosing to self-publish their work.  J.K. Rowling sells the e-book versions of the Harry Potter series directly from Pottermore, her website dedicated to the magical world of Harry Potter. The estates of Ian Fleming, Barbara Cartland and Catherine Cookson are also publishing their authors’ printed work as e-books and selling directly to the public. 

“Whatever stigma vanity publishing may have had has diminished substantially for both readers and authors,” commented Russ Grandinetti, VP of Kindle Content, in a December 2010 interview in Publisher’s Weekly (PW)Select


The lure of self-publishing is the fact that you – the author – have complete control.



“The book is yours – it’s your ideas and your vision from start to finish,” says Angela DeCaires, marketing communications manager for BookLogix Publishing Services.

The Alpharetta, Georgia,-based company publishes approximately 75 titles per year. BookLogix offers authors the full range of publishing services, from editing to selling, as well as offering free webinars for authors on topics such as “Using Skillful Communication to Improve Your Marketing,” “Self-Publishing 101,” “Building Your Publishing Empire” and “Finding and Filling Your Niche as a Non-fiction Writer.”

DeCaries, today’s featured expert on The Writing Well, shares five areas authors should consider before they embark on self-publishing their book:

  1. Financial Ability – “A lot of writers are thinking about the physical production of the book; they are not thinking about all the other costs that are going to go into it such as marketing —whether it’s hiring a PR person or having a video book trailer made or printing up promotional materials or having the funding to set up a website. We encourage everyone to do their homework and get a sense of what the costs could be, and to not get started until you have that base budget ready.”
  1. Commitment– “When you are writing a book it’s like having a baby, you have to be committed to the book and being a salesperson and keeping up on your marketing methods, such as social media and blogging. To make the book successful, it is a long process that requires your full involvement. You should always be thinking ‘What else can I be doing to promote my book?'”
  1. Marketing – “While first-time authors think the writing is the hardest and most important part, we’d like to say writing is 10% and the marketing is 90% of the work and effort you need to put in. Obviously there is no book if you don’t write it, but no one will buy your book if you don’t do marketing because they won’t know it’s out there. The beauty now with self publishing in the digital era is there are unlimited ways you can market your book. It’s about understanding your audience and knowing what marketing method you should use to reach that audience. Our marketing folks can work with an author to suggest some methods that we believe are best based on their book and goals for the book. Ultimately, it’s important to do your research up front.” 
  1. Understanding Your Readers – “Writers should ask themselves even before they start their book: ‘Who is my ideal reader?’ ‘Who am I trying to reach?’” Every decision they make in the writing, publishing, and marketing, should then be based on reaching that reader.
  1. Selecting the Right Self-publishing Support Company – “This could be the hardest one for folks. You have to find the right company for you. There are tons of companies out there and each has something that’s great. Do they offer what you are looking for? What are the contracts these different companies are offering? Do they have terms in there that you are comfortable or uncomfortable with? Do they care about the success of your book? Do your homework on what they offer and what kind of support system they have for you, and if they have the customer service behind it.”

“The number one thing authors need to do that covers all of these points is education. It’s crucial that they educate themselves as much as they can about the publishing business,” DeCaires says.

Want to learn more? Visit BookLogix on Facebook and follow the company on Twitter @booklogix.For a listing of free webinars, visit:

Self Publishing – The Way Forward?

I am in the second week of the WordCount Blogathon along with 250 other bloggers. This challenge – to blog every day in the month of May — has given me an excuse to reach out to authors, publishers and editors as I seek to fill the content funnel for my writing blog.
I recently discussed with an author the merits of self-publishing versus getting your book out through a traditional publisher.  Who wouldn’t want to say they are represented by Simon and Schuster, Random House, or HarperCollins?  No first-time author would ignore the professional prestige of being signed by a publisher. That milestone brings instant credibility – it says to the world, “Your storytelling is good enough to be in ‘the club.’”
A key question facing writers today: does self-publishing still have a stigma? My published colleague believes yes, while I tend to think no. I’ll admit that self-publishing is a noisy place where anyone can push out a book. It’s not hard to find examples of poor quality product — from typos to flat writing. At the same time, there is some great self-published work reaching the public. Writers can connect with audiences through social media in ways never dreamed possible before. Just consider the Cinderella stories of virtual unknowns whose independent works have led to bestseller lists, book deals, and even movie options. 
Self-published author sensation Kerry Wilkinson.
There is a growing movement and acceptance of self-published works driven in large part by the explosion in e-books.  Consider these facts:

  • Last year more e-books sold than books in print, and in the UK alone there are 24 e-books for every hard cover book, according to Verdict Book Reviews.  
  •  The Guardian reported last August that sales of adult hardback fiction have fallen by over 10% in 2011, with eBooks now accounting for 13.6% of U.S. market. And who was last year’s top Amazon UK bookseller? A 31-year-old sports journalist and self-published writer named Kerry Wilkinson, who has since signed a six-book deal with Pan MacMillan. 
The New York Times Magazine, the publishing world’s most visible channel for literary recognition, acknowledges that “times have changed.” In 2010,  the Times’ Medium blog article, “The Rise of Self-Publishing,” reported that 764,448 titles were produced by self-publishers and so-called microniche publishers in 2009 — a jump of 181 percent from the prior year.
“Compare this enormous figure with the number of so-called traditional titles — books with the imprimatur of places like Random House — published that same year: a mere 288,355 (down from 289,729 the year before). Book publishing is simply becoming self-publishing,” the article stated.
With that kind of momentum, self-publishing is arguably becoming the path of choice for established and new authors. Independent writers are becoming more organized as a group. Earlier this year, Orna Ross, Irish author-turned-indie, established The Alliance of Independent Authors,  the first non-profit organization representing self-published authors’ interests.
Even with these positive developments, there is a lot to consider before self-publishing. Visit The Writing Well tomorrow when I interview BookLogix, a Southeastern U.S. self-publishing house, on the five things authors need to think about before deciding to go down this path. 
In the meantime, check out this Forbes story, “How Self-Publishing Can Lead to a Book Deal.”

The Joy of Journaling

On Saturday I’m at TJ Maxx when I come to an aisle filled with stationery, writing journals, and tablets of paper. My son picks up a black leather-bound one with the words, “Little Black Book” on the front of it.
“Mom, can I have that one?” he pleads.
Soon, we find an identical one for his sister – in hot pink. Thrilled with having their own logbook for their imaginations, my children beg for a pen even before we reach the car. As we head home, I relish a rare moment of calm and quiet inside our van, as the kids lean over their journals, and begin to fill the pages.
For the past few days, the journal and my son have been inseparable; it’s with him everywhere — church, school, meals, bedtime. Heading into church, my husband and I discover the beloved black book stuffed in his shirt. I tell him he can keep it as long as he writes about what he learns at Sunday school. Later that day, I read all about a tour his class took of the church campus, including the historic sanctuary and library.
On the bus ride home on Monday he has drawn a “secret” map; later that day he lists what he will sell his collection of bottle caps for at a garage sale. With the same attention to detail and mathematical process of his math-teaching dad, my son includes type, quantity and a “bulk” price.

“Can I draw pictures in my journal?” he asks. I tell him he can put whatever he wants in his journal — it’s his. Soon I see him sketching characters and scenes from one of his favorite books (to the left is his drawing of the “Turbo Toilet 2000” from the children’s comic book, Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.) While not classic literature, the Captain Underpants books should be applauded for getting active little boys everywhere interested in reading.

With the lazy days of summer almost here, it’s perfect timing for my kids to show an interest in journaling. I aim to give them ample opportunities to express themselves on paper.

Journal entries can be as diverse as your kids — a place where they can describe impressions of people they encounter, funny antics of a pet, an unforgettable trip or a safe harbor to pour out their feelings of joy or sorrow. In her Suite 101 post on encouraging children to journal, home-schooling mom Chris Oldenburg writes, “They learn to record thoughts, ideas and events on paper and feel a part of the activity while doing so.”

In case I run out of ideas, I found another online resource for writing activities for kids:
“Journaling is a way to process and think things through very effectively – helping you to make decisions. It strengthens your sense of self and helps your realize your potential. It is a great way of clarifying goals and learning to trust yourself,” writes creator Julie, a U.K.-based mother of two, who has been homeschooling her children for eight years.
One writing exercise she suggests is to find a newspaper story that might be of interest to your kids and have them write more about the people in the article.
When it comes to journaling, she advises to encourage kids “straight away to use their journal as an expression of who they are, with felt pens, glitter sticks and a box of stickers.”
Parents should “keep it fun” – “It isn’t something we feel we ‘have’ to do every day. Take your journal out and about with you for when you feel you have something to say,” she advises.
Read more of Julie’s ideas on how to make journaling enjoyable here.

If you have school-age kids, I urge you to get them a summer journal and see what happens!


Eight Writing Resources

There are many online writing communities and resources available online for today’s author and copywriter. Here are seven resources that I find helpful — I hope you do, too:
1. Visual Thesaurus – A tool for people who think visually, this online thesaurus and dictionary features more than 145,000 words that you can explore using an interactive map.
2.Eminent Quotables – What writers say about writing – this handy reference (with a pull-down menu of authors) provides succinct quotes from historic and contemporary wordsmiths, from Isaac Asimov and Jane Austen to Tom Clancy and Winston Churchill.
3.Kennessaw State University’s Tools in Writing — A comprehensive collection of online resources for writers, including grammar guides, editing information, screenwriting information, writer’s organizations and web writing and design.

4.Links to Writers Organizations This comprehensive list of writers groups compiled by includes journalist societies, international writing guilds, science fiction and fantasy, romance and other genre writing associations– in short, virtually every group out there.

5. Writing Forward — This site focuses on expanding the skills of creative writers (fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction), while providing insight and inspiration.  Recent articles include how to deal with heartbreaking critiques of your writing; how to start a successful writers’ workshop; and 23 writing tips to overcome writer’s block that don’t involve writing.

6. Writing Tips from Masters —  compiled by Gotham Writers’ Workshop, it includes links to key writing tips from established literary figures such as George Orwell, Billy Wilder and Edgar Allan Poe.

7.  The Ultimate Freelance Writing and Career Guide –JobHero has put together a handy writing and career guide for freelancers that includes a number of resources. Use these links to look for work, build your experience, network with other writers, and find helpful tools.

8.   Six Essential Steps to Secure Internet for Freelancers – AllConnect’s Connected Home Blog offers helpful tips for freelance writers to work securely from their home office, beginning with how to protect your home WiFi network.

What are some writing resources you find helpful? Share them here.

Bloggers & Writers – Find Your Dream Retreat or Workshop this Summer


As summer approaches, many writers are looking for ways to get away, recharge their creative batteries, and connect with peers. Every year at this time I get an e-mail from the International Women’s Writing Guild about their Summer Writing Conference.

A quick Google search brought me to “the” guide for writers wanting to get away: The Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops. This free, searchable directory from ShawGuides lists more than 1,000 conferences with short descriptions highlighting key information of what each conference offers.

I spoke with Dorlene Kaplan, editor of ShawGuides, to find out more about the directory and things to think about as you look to find the perfect writer’s getaway.

“Now is a great time to begin planning a writing retreat or other getaway – summer is the most popular time,” says Kaplan. The three-time published author of personal finance books recalls how she struggled to learn about writing workshops.

“You could find a list of writer’s conferences in publications like Writer’s Digest but you didn’t get much information,” recalls Kaplan. Seeing an unmet market need, Kaplan began researching writing conferences and compiling them in one place in 1988. In 1995, the directory – under the ShawGuides brand — was made available online.

Today, ShawGuides provides directories for a wide array of learning vacations – from culinary travel to photography and language vacations as well as tennis and golf schools.

Writing conferences remain the most popular directory, says Kaplan, who recommends that you should decide early on what type of experience you want from your getaway.

“A retreat doesn’t include instruction,” she says. “You should have a project in the works and be pretty secure in your writing. The whole idea of a retreat is to get away from any distractions and devote your full attention to working on a project.”

In contrast, at a workshop or conference, “you’re really going to learn.”

Kaplan has attended both and found the experiences phenomenal. “Not only do you learn, but also you make connections with agents, editors and other writers (in a non-competitive environment),” she says.

If cost is an issue, consider one-day or weekend programs offered in your community or close by.

“I read years ago and I think it’s so true – over three-quarters of the people who go to these don’t travel very far from their home. You can usually find programs in your community or not too far away,” Kaplan says.

Do you have a favorite writing workshop or conference? Share it here, and I will post the top 10 Blogathon Writer’s Getaways at the end of May.

Meeting Deadlines


As writers, deadlines are a part of life, whether you churn out copy daily for a blog or newspaper column, or you are working on your next best seller.

In addition to other writing work, I cover trends in technology for Via Satellite, a monthly satellite industry publication published by Access Intelligence Satellite Group. Today, after quote checking some details with a source, I made my submission deadline for an in-depth feature I’d been researching for weeks on the small satellite market.

Everyone knows the relief and sense of satisfaction of beating the time crunch – especially if the editorial project poses challenges – as this assignment did — in terms of topic complexity, hard-to-reach sources and other unexpected delays.  As they say, life often gets in the way of the best laid plans.

Via Satellite Managing Editor Debbie Richards juggles two monthly print magazines (with weekly and daily editions). She told me that writers meeting deadlines are critical to the many publication production schedules she manages. Richards, an editor for the last five years, encourages writers to always keep the lines of communication open.

“Keep your editor advised – if you tell me a week ahead of time I’m having trouble getting this interview then I know you will be a day or two late and I can budget for that. But if you don’t call me at all, then I’m going to hunt you down. It’s much easier if I know ahead of time something is going wrong than having it sprung on me at the last minute,” she says.

In his Nov. 10, 2010 post, “Deadlines keep the paper alive,” writing coach Don Fry estimated that 5 percent of the papers he deals with don’t have deadlines, and all of those come out late. He writes that absent or unmet deadlines further undermine the copy desk, which is under heavy strain with shrinking newsroom staffs.

“A lack of deadlines, or a culture of not meeting them, leads to ‘shoveling’ copy, the norm in most newsrooms after about 9 p.m.” In contrast, properly met deadlines keep the gears meshing. He advises newspaper editors have deadlines, and “that everybody agrees on what they mean, and everybody meets them, including you.”

So, what can you do to meet your deadlines? Start by trying these four steps:

1. Set your own internal deadlines and give yourself cushion to meet your client’s external deadlines.

2. Communicate regularly with your editor or corporate client – let them know if you need more time and why. Two-way dialogue can go a long way.

3. Think twice before taking on a project with unreasonable turnaround times. It will hurt you in the long run from a stress perspective. Also, the final product won’t reflect your best work.

4. Read freelance writer and blogger Leo Babauta’s post, “14 Essential Steps for Meeting a Deadline.”

Numbers Done Right

One guilty pleasure I have on Sunday mornings is reading Parade Magazine. The May 1st issue was devoted to “numbers” – one nation, 50 states, over 300 million people….and a lot of anecdotal statistics covering everything from how Americans spend their money to the states with the top physical activity, high school graduation rates and recent dental visits.

I learned that Miami Beach is the most tattooed city in the country, while Springfield, Ore., has the most strip clubs in the country (a surprise to me given Atlanta’s propensity for gentlemen’s clubs).  

As writers, we often must cite statistics and other facts to make our point credible to readers. Numbers and facts do tell a story – and when used properly within the right context, can ensure credibility and readability. When used improperly, they can cause the opposite effect: confusion and quick dismissal of the content.


Andrew Dlugan, an award-winning public speaker, and the author of the Six Minutes Public Speaking Blog, blogged about this topic back in 2008, calling statistics provided without any meaningful context “naked.”


I agree with Dlugan that numbers are often too large to grasp by themselves – especially if your intended audience is more general (not technical). For your statistic to hit home with your readers, you need context – and the more personal or immediate the context for your audience, the better. He suggests you follow any number you cite with “which means…” to link the statistic to the context/explanation.


It’s sound advice echoed by Ann Wylie, author of more than a dozen learning tools that help people improve their communication skills. “Make your statistics more meaningful by comparing them to something tangible and familiar to your audience,” she urges in her 2009 post titled, “Take the ‘numb’ out of numbers.”

I often find myself dealing with “numbers” when writing “public health in action” features for a CDC website. When reporting on last summer’s Salmonellosis outbreak that led to the largest egg recall in history, I interviewed officials in California’s state health department and CDC’s PulseNet team. PulseNet is a CDC-managed, national network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories that helps public health officials detect foodborne disease case clusters early on. One of the interviewees noticed the numbers of this type of Salmonella infection jump in late June:


“Normally, we’d see about 300 of these monthly during summer every year, but around the third week in June, we saw that number double,” the source stated. Her comment underscored how unusual this spike was in the context of a normal summer season where people reported foodborne-related illnesses.

It’s not hard to make stats real – you can simply add another layer of detail that puts the numbers into a common frame of reference.


Instead of: In Ohio, 6,422 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed annually between 2002 and 2006.

Write: More Ohioans die from colorectal cancer than any other cancer except lung cancer. Some 6,422 new cases were diagnosed annually between 2002 and 2006.

Do you have examples of writing about numbers that worked? What about ones that missed the mark? Share them here!

DragonCon 2010: NYT Bestselling Writers Tell All

DragonCon held Labor Day weekend in Atlanta was more than a visual smorgasbord for SciFi enthusiasts as their favorite characters took over four downtown hotels. For writers, it offered some exciting opportunities to hear from the best genre writers in science fiction and fantasy.
On Sunday I checked out a session, “NYT Bestsellers Tell it All,” on how to help boost your book to the NYT Bestsellers List. The panelists are all bestselling authors, who talked candidly about their writing journeys. None of them struck gold immediately, and all of them shared stories of battling their own inner critics that got in the way of their success.  “Perfection is an unattainable goal” was a message that was loud and clear to this writer.

Star Wars Jedi Academy Triology Author Kevin Anderson: Prolific and Connected 

Kevin Anderson, who gained fame writing for X-Files and as a co-author of the Dune prequels, penned the Star Wars Jedi Academy trilogy that was the three top-selling science fiction novels of 1994 and the bestselling SF anthologies of all time.  He noted that all the featured panelists are prolific writers who  interact with the fans at book signings and other events.

“We still work a lot, are fans and write like crazy.” He criticized his profession’s tendency to turn on bestselling authors such as Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, and Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. “I want to stand up for these authors because they are pleasing a lot of readers,” he says (way to go, Kevin!).

Anderson himself has more than 11 million books in print worldwide but considers Lonesome Dove, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel written by Larry McMurtry, his all-time favorite read. The best writer’s advice he ever received was from Dean Koontz who told him that the first million words you write “is all practice and if you get paid while you’re practicing then great. But, don’t expect that you really know how to be a writer until you’ve written a million words, which is about 10 novels or so. I’ve written about 10 novels and I’m still learning.”

Anita Blake Series Author Laurell K. Hamilton’s Advice: Don’t Give Up

Laurell K. Hamilton, the NYT bestselling author of Meredith Gentry novels and the acclaimed Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter Series novels, says her Anita Blake novels were rejected 200 times by editors in the late 1980s, when she was told repeatedly that the vampire genre was dead. Publishing houses liked her book but didn’t know how to market it, she said until finally Penguin/Putnam Books picked it up.

“I am living proof, folks, don’t be discouraged. If you believe in what you are doing, keep doing it,” says Hamilton, who learned she cracked the top 50 book list on USA Today not from her agent her publisher, but from another editor who had earlier rejected her work.

Hamilton recalls attending a writer’s workshop at a smaller science fiction convention where she brought in a short story and short fantasy novel. “The (workshop) didn’t make me a better writer but at the end of the weekend I was a better editor of my stuff,” she recalled. “Sometimes it is not that you aren’t good at writing; sometimes it’s that you are not good at seeing what’s good in your writing and that comes with practice. That short story I edited after that workshop was the first thing that sold for me. Her advice is simple: “don’t be overly critical of your work; take out as much as you can and send it out, knowing what markets you are sending it out to, and keep sending it out.”

Panelist Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files, a fantasy/mystery series-turned SciFi TV program about a private investigator and wizard in Chicago, said it took nine years before his first novel was published. He offers some great organization advice for the beginning novelist on his blog site (see: Putting it All Together.”)

Sherrilyn Kenyon Overcomes Vampire Rejection to Find Dark-Hunter Following 

Paranormal writing pioneer Sherrilyn Kenyon, a NYT bestselling author of The Dark-Hunters series (among others), has claimed the coveted #1 spot 12 times in the last two years. She recalls how no editors or publishers wanted to publish a vampire book – she took their feedback and altered her characters into “daimons.” She also created guardians of humanity in the form of Dark-Hunters and hasn’t looked back since.

Kenyon, who has eight brothers, says she lives in fear of her family coming to book signings. Her favorite authors are British science, horror and fantasy writer Tanith Lee and David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of military SF stories and novels.

Jonathan Maberry Shares Two Books that Changed His Life

Jonathan Maberry, a NYT bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of both non-fiction and fiction, recalls at age 14 reading two books that changed his life – the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, I am Legend, which was later made into a film starting Will Smith, and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes, about the harrowing experience of two 13-year-old boys when a nightmarish traveling carnival comes to their town.

“Those books did more for me than any writing class,” says Maberry, whose first published book was a college textbook on martial arts who later moved into writing about the occult and paranormal. Maberry’s account of his first NYT bestseller was particularly entertaining – it happened after being tapped to write the novelization of The Wolfman to coincide with the movie’s re-release in 2010.
“I got a call out of nowhere from someone at Universal who told me they were remaking The Wolfman and would I be interested in adapting it into a novel,” recalled Maberry, who was very professional on the call but inside was “doing the stupid dance.”  Maberry wrote the book having never seen the movie. He said that the script didn’t have a lot of detail and the studio told him to “write a novel.’ He did, and the book got better press than the movie.

Memorable Advice:  Pay it Forward

Maberry says he received great advice from writer David Morrell, author of 28 novels, a few years ago when he said, “Writing is about art but publishing is about business. If you are going to get anywhere…become a businessman who writes. That was great advice and it genuinely helped my career.” In the same conversation, he told him to always pay it forward by helping every other writer you can find even if they are just taking up a pencil for the first time “because the industry needs more good books.”

The Resume Done Right: True Targeted Marketing

I recently was asked by a friend to review a resume of someone who was readying herself to re-enter the job market in either real estate or customer service following a period unemployment due to some personal issues. It’s a common request when someone knows you are a “writer.”

I’ve learned, after talking to some experts and checking out outline resources, that there’s a lot to the craft of resume writing – from content to visual presentation. There also are different types of resumes – from chronological to functional to combination (which turns out to be the best way to position job hunters with gaps in their work history).
Tailoring your resume is key in this job market, Colleen Reyerson, CERW, CPRW, CEIP, told me. Reyerson, whose written resumes professionally for over a decade, runs Executive Resumes Atlanta, and prides herself on the time and in-depth consultative approach she takes with clients. “The generic resume is the worse thing you can do,” she says., a fast-growing job site that positions itself as the “smarter way to hires,” says a common mistake of non-professional resume writers is to be task-based and not results-based in their job descriptions; that is, telling what you did, instead of what you achieved.
“Employers want to know about your previous contributions and specifically how you’ve made a difference. More importantly, they want to know how you are going to make a significant difference at their company,” JobFox advises.
The resume is your “sales message” that must stand out from the competition, states the home page of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, the oldest and largest career association, which offers Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) certification.
“Job seekers need to have a really good marketing document, and that’s what a resume is,” says Frank Fox, the association’s executive director. Fox adds that resume writing demand remains strong both when it’s a buyer’s market such as a down economy, and when jobs are plentiful because that’s when people look for new opportunities.

In looking at various online tips, I was particularly impressed with the thoroughness of the five resume writing tips offered on Vertex42: The Guide to Excel in Everything:
#1 Be Convincing
#2 Be Concise
#3 Be Clear
#4 Be Consistent
#5 Be Clean

I would add one more for those of us in the writing profession: Be Cognizant, or mindful that this niche of writing improves with experience. To do it well, you need more than a way with words – you need to be naturally inquisitive, a problem solver, and a first-rate interviewer.

Words Really Do Matter

When not thought out – such as a carelessly worded e-mail, words can annoy, hurt or wound the spirit. When they are spoken or written with the full feeling of our hearts, they can heal and even transform. That was what I’ll remember most from attending the third annual Wellness & Writing Connections Conference on Oct. 23 at Georgia Tech.

The conference’s keynote speaker was someone who touched me with her sincerity — a “sister in spirit” — author, journalist and 33-year writing professor Julie Davey. A two-time cancer survivor, Julie gives back by teaching cancer patients how to use writing to heal at the City of Hope Medical Center in Los Angeles.
To our group of 100 writers, she shared the stories of some of her students to demonstrate the power of directed writing (as opposed to journal writing) for people needing to face their sadness, fear, frustration, pain.
She told the story of Linda Bergman, a famous Hollywood producer with 26 films to her credit, who got cancer on her 50th birthday as she was filming “Michael Landon: The Father I Knew.”  Julie recalled how Linda was about to give up with the chemo treatments that weren’t making her better. She was ready to check out of the hospital and go home to die. Her family and oncologist at the City of Hope convinced her to try one final trial. Four months later she was cured. Linda donates one day a week at the City of Hope, serving as an anonymous greeter to arrivals at the cancer center. Linda wrote about her victory and how much she loves serving others facing cancer in “Free at Last:”

I have reached my goal – I am no longer the victim.
I am assisting those who have come behind me.
I see it on the patient’s faces when I get the opportunity to say, ‘Oh you have leukemia. I had that, too.’
I see the light in their eyes as they search mine for answers.
No, we don’t always have the same disease, but they know I speak their language.
They know I can be trusted.
They know I have faced the demons and lived to tell about it.
They know I am disease-free and standing in the midst of the storm, shining a light to them.
They know I love them because I am them.

Julie also spoke about her favorite student of all time – Violet Wightman, who began taking her writing classes at Fullerton College at age 91. Violet’s ice-breaker introduction was that she was a friend to both Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and the famous aviator Amelia Earhart – statements that she later proved were true. Violet was a former concert pianist who raised her four children alone after her husband, a Hollywood dentist, died tragically in a car accident in Europe. Always outspoken and colorful in class, Violet had aspirations to write her life story. Upon learning she had terminal cancer, this desire became urgent. Julie and others at the college helped Violet pull together her writing collection, Sitting on a Cloud, before her death.

Each of us attending Julie’s talk got to experience directed writing. We were given an envelope with the message, “Please wait to open.” When it was time to open my envelope, it read: “The day I would like to relive (or live over) would be the day….”

I didn’t have to think for long. I wrote, “The day my terminally ill mother asked if I could spend the day with her because it was a good day (she was feeling okay), and I didn’t because of work deadlines. I thought there would be more days but they became fewer in number as her condition deteriorated. I would love to have that day back, because she’s gone and the work wasn’t important.”

My mother died on Aug. 3, 2004, three weeks after my son was born. This brief episode in my mother’s nine-month struggle with stage four lung cancer has always haunted me. I bitterly think about my absorption in work –and I hated myself for not taking a break from the daily grind of client expectations to realize that time was short – that soon I would no longer have my mother to talk with, share confidences with, to be with for those mother-daughter moments that were such a fabric of our relationship. I admit I cried as I wrote those words. Getting them down on paper helped me accept that I am human and most importantly, that my mother knew how much I loved her…that our bond is unshakeable, unchanged no matter how many years pass.
I did my own form of healing through narrative by penning A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking 10 months after my mother’s passing.  I poured out my pain through my own remembrances and those of other daughters who lost their mothers too soon, using my skills as a storyteller and interviewer. It was a healing experience, and one I hope to continue as I explore adapting some of these stories for the stage.
So, how do you get started? Consider these exercises, suggested in Julie’s book, Writing for Wellness, when you have a quiet moment and want to get in touch with your feelings:
Tribute Letter
• Write a letter to someone missing in your life. Write about the good times you shared and describe why you miss them today. Share your letter with a person who knew or was related to your loved one or friend.
Unfinished Business
• Is there some event in your life that still makes your angry or sad? Finish this sentence: When (describe the incident) happened, I felt….
Lessons Learned
• What lessons have you learned so far in your life? Make a list of five to ten – explain in a few words how you learned these lessons, or finish one of these sentences:
I learned the hard way that….
I wish my parents had told me…
I would like to tell my children or friends to always…