Stories in Writing
“This gathering of ideas, I admit, may be something I am doing for myself, something I want to do for what it brings me. My hope, however, is that other writers may find some takeaway that informs – or maybe even transforms – their approach to writing, too.”
I miss writing columns. For years, I was a columnist for a small newspaper in my hometown of Schaumburg, Illinois. Every other week, I sought out story ideas in my community, conducted research and interviews, and put it all together in a 500-word article. I found this pursuit both challenging and stimulating. It connected me to my community. And importantly, throughout this process, I discovered an effective framework that helped me to shape these articles. I also found practices that aided me in greasing the wheels to get the job of writing done.
Then one day I relocated across the country to Texas and had to give up my column. Shortly after, my former newspaper (like so many in the last several years) closed down.
I continued to write, working on children’s books and other projects. I began pursuing a Reading and Literacy Masters Degree. But again, I missed writing columns. Putting something out there on a consistent basis made me feel more relevant and connected to my community. Also, I don’t like to waste things, including experiences. Or more precisely, I like that something I experienced or that I observed can go on to mean something or be a part of something in some other context.
And so, I am challenging myself to conduct myself like a columnist again. My short “articles,” however, will not be in print this time around, but be presented in the format of a blog. And it will not be directed toward a regional community. Rather, I hope to explore the ideas that may interest a community of individuals like myself who are fascinated (if not sometimes bewildered) by this whole craft and business of writing for young people.
My original, community-based column was titled “Schaumburg: Our Stories.” I chose that title myself, as I liked the inclusion of the word “stories” because that is what I believed I was sharing – bits of the life stories of people in our community. I am using “stories” again in the naming of this new endeavor – it is called, simply, “Stories in Writing.” It seems a broad enough description to cover all manner of topics, from learning opportunities, to trends, to the opinions and experiences of other writers. I may also post invitations for writers, readers, parents, teachers to contribute their input on a particular topic for an upcoming blog.
This gathering of ideas, I admit, may be something I am doing for myself, something I want to do for what it brings me. My hope, however, is that other writers may find some takeaway that informs – or maybe even transforms – their approach to writing, too.
(With Tips on What to Do If You Want to Be an Author, Too)
How What You’re Doing Right Now May Be the Perfect First Step to Becoming a Writer and Author
Ever since forever, I wondered about the big world out there.
I grew up in Michigan, the oldest (and bossiest) of five children.
My earliest memories are of a family driving trip to Florida. I was 3 years old. I found a pink flamingo feather! And I recall the singer Nancy Sinatra performing “These Boots are Made for Walking,” on the motel TV.
Also, I caught the travel bug.
When I was older, my family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. We discovered misty breezes on hazy mountaintops, woodsy-scented trails and wildlife — I caught a sight of a lumbering black bear there!
(Writing Tip #1: Remember when you write to include what is experienced through the senses!)
Also, I learned that there were National Parks all over the country. I wanted to visit them all.
At my library at Shadywood Elementary, I pored over big travel books, like AMERICA’S WONDERLANDS and SCENIC WONDERS OF AMERICA. I daydreamed about the places I might go someday.
Throughout my growing up years, I made other choices that turned me in the direction of travel and finding out about the world.
- I collected postcards of faraway places
- I wrote to pen pals from 3 different countries (England, Germany, Turkey)
- I wrote a pretend travel brochure, just for fun (one day I would write real travel brochures)
Also, when I was growing up, I discovered reading and writing. My mom brought us on regular excursions to the public library, because she loved reading, too.
(Writing Tip #2: If you want to be a writer, read a lot.)
It didn’t take long to figure out that reading and travelling had something in common – both offered a glimpse of how big, amazing, and varied the world is. And writing? Well for me, it allowed me to take all that stuff that I discovered on those trips, or happened at home or school, or that I learned from books or even imagined — and DO something with it, turn it into SOMETHING. I found that my experiences and imaginings were the raw materials with which I could form a story. An article. A pretend travel brochure.
(Writing Tip #3: Know that all the things you experience, learn about and imagine are the precious “stuff” that you can weave into your writing.)
I began to write stories when I was very young. In first grade, I won a class prize for my book, WHAT TO DO ON A RAINY DAY. I won two more school writing contests in later grades.
As I grew up, I kept writing. I wrote:
- in my diary
- for school writing contests
- for my high school newspaper
- for my community college newspaper
- for my university newspaper
(Writing tip #4: Look for opportunities everywhere to write, write, write. Write everyday if you can!)
I chose a college major that required lots of writing. And then my love of travel and of writing came together in an amazing summer internship – in the communications department of the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau. That’s where I first wrote a real travel brochure. And a travel article, too.
When I was in my 20s I got married, and my husband traveled together for his job. I began to write travel articles about the places we stayed. I also wrote short stories and children’s stories. I sent these stories out to magazine editors – and was thrilled when some were published.
That’s how I got my start at a professional writer. Later, I began writing children’s books. My first published book was IF I WERE PRESIDENT, inspired by my work in a preschool on Presidents’ Day.
So while this bio is about me, here’s what I want YOU to know. Those things that I chose to pursue for myself when I was young are, in part, the very things that pointed me in the direction of what I would do when I grew up. Many of my ideas for the things I write about come from what I experience in my own town and community. But as I continue to travel throughout my life, things that I would not have seen, learned about or experienced at home give me even more ideas that I often incorporate into articles or stories.
This applies to you, too. Consider what choices you have made about activities, collections, books you’ve read, lessons you’ve taken – what does all of this tell you about YOU and the stories you want to tell and the future you want for yourself? Because those bits that you choose for yourself when you are young can led you to the very things that may continue to be important to you, and may sustain you, may even turn out to be your job when you grow up. You can see one beautiful example of this in the children’s picture book ME…JANE written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. It is the story Jane Goodall, whose childhood interests in animals, especially chimpanzees, led her to observe, study, and advocate for these animals for her life’s work.
Finally, know this – all fields need writers and communicators. No matter what field or interests you ultimately pursue, you may find that these lead you to become a writer or even an author, too. If you become a teacher, you might write a book about teaching ideas someday. If you love science, you may blog about new breakthroughs in science. If you are interested in reading, you perform literary research that ends up in an academic journal.
So that’s what I wanted to share. I hope this overview of the path I followed, with a few tips tucked in along the way, offers something you can pack up and takeaway for your own writer’s journey.