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Moira Allen – Editor – Writing-World.com

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moira allen

Moira Allen is the Editor and creator of Writing-World.com for close to 15 years. She is an expert in teaching about the business of writing and honing the craft of writing.

I have followed her website for a few years now and she has graciously let me pick her brain with my own questions and her website is an education in itself. She has now generously granted me this wonderful interview.

Moira is honest, pragmatic and grounded in her approach to writing and the business of writing. She has much to teach us.  Let’s welcome Moira Allen.

PSW: Your love of words show in your newsletter. How did you decide to be a writer?

MA: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories in my head. But even that, is think, stems from the fact that I came from a family of readers. So “stories” were something that were just a natural part of my life. They were all around me: my mother read to me from as early as I can remember, so I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t being exposed to “storytelling”.

I grew up surrounded by books, and by the notion that books and reading were important. I could nearly always manage to be left alone to “do my own thing” if I were reading – or at least pretending to read – because the family considered reading to be one of the most worthwhile things that one could do. Often, however, I’d be hiding behind a book and actually making up my own stories and acting them out in my head

It simply seemed natural, then, to want to start writing those stories down when I became more able to do so. And that’s when I ran into the magic of non-completion – I worked on the same “novel” for years! When you’re young and constantly growing and changing, your ideas of “the perfect story” keep changing too, and I’d get to about chapter 4 or 5 and decide to start over at the beginning. (Unfortunately that tendency hasn’t really gone away…)

I’m sure I flirted briefly with other ideas about “what I would be” when I grew up – I recall discarding “ballerina” fairly early. I know for quite awhile I was sure I wanted to be a naturalist, but mainly because I enjoyed reading what naturalists wrote about nature and animals, and I wanted to write the same types of things. I got cured of that when, in college, I worked at a zoology museum and found out that today’s naturalist did quite a lot of cutting things up.

But I think all along, I was pretty convinced that “when I grew up” I wanted to be a writer. I still do. But then, I’m still waiting to grow up.

PSW: How has your writing talent help you grow creatively?

MA: I think writing changes how one sees the world. I know that many people don’t imagine writing as being an “active” type of career. But it’s certainly a mentally active one! It changes one’s approach to looking at just about anything, because it becomes difficult to look at something without automatically starting to think about how one would describe it or explain it to another person.

From there, that means that one is on longer simply a passive observer of life. One is always looking deeper, looking around corners, looking for meanings, looking for patterns. Sherlock Holmes accused Watson of seeing but not “observing”. I think that as one becomes a writer, one moves from simply seeing (“oh, look, pretty lake”) to observing – and interpreting. (“How would you describe the color of the water? How does the sun strike it? What is the impression or feeling that it gives you – warm sparkles or a sense of cold dread at the bottomless depths? Who’s in that boat out there? Is that an innocent family outing or a murder about to happen?”)

One of the things one seeks to do as a writer is to take what one sees (or imagines) and enable another person to see it. That extends to seeking to enable another person to see things that no longer exist – e.g., the world of the past – or things that have not existed yet – the future, another planet, etc. Writing enables us to see “creatively” because we want to be able to express, creatively, what we see.

PSW: What is the best way to practice the writing craft?

The one that works for you. Seriously. I am SO not a fan of articles that say to be a good writer, or a successful writer, you “must” do this, that or the other. You’ll have one person saying that it’s best to get up at 5 a.m. And write while you are “fresh.” Another advocates writing in the afternoon. One person is convinced that you must writer detailed outlines; another believes in flash cards; another in “clustering,” another in flying by the seat of the pants.

There have been many mantras about writing that be passed around the community. Basically, the writing community tends to latch on to a piece of advice and , because it was uttered by an “expert,” it’s taken as gospel and passed on as such, over and over and over again. For awhile, for instance, it was considered absolutely vital that a writer maintain a journal. You just HAD to have someplace to jot down your thoughts, ideas, inspirations, etc., every day. I can remember reading article after article extolling the importance of journaling. I don’t see that advice very often anymore – it seems to have become less “in fashion” – but for a time everyone just simply “agree” that this MUST be THE thing to do.

Similarly, the piece of advice that gets passed around constantly is that you MUST write EVERY day. Then there are lots of pieces of tangential advice that try to handle the fact that, let’s face it, most of us CAN”T manage to write every day. So we’re told that we should, but… as long as we just write 100 words or 500 words or a journal entry, we have “fulfilled” the requirement. No one tends to question who came up with the “requirement” in the first place.

The problem with these “best way” recommendations is that when you aren’t doing it or cannot do it or think it’s a total waste of time to do it (can you tell I never got “into” journaling?), it’s easy to feel that you’re not doing “everything in your power” to be a writer. And if you’re not doing “everything” that you should be doing, you must not want it enough, and if you don’t want it enough, maybe you’re not REALLY cut out to be a writer in the first place!

So… the best way is YOUR way. If you find that your way isn’t actually working for you, then it’s up to you to examine what you’re doing and develop a system that works better. One of the first steps in that exam is to make sure that you’re not trying to follow someone else’s way, and failing to understand why THEIR way isn’t working for YOU.

PSW: What is your typical writing day like?

It usually involves quite a lot of NOT writing. I do not write every day. When I do, and I’m really settling into it, there ‘s a lot of “to-ing and fro-ing.” I sit down. I try to concentrate. I get up. I walk around. I get coffee. I put on the laundry. I sit down. I drink the coffee. I write a couple of paragraphs. I get up. The coffee is gone; need more. I pace the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil. I make more coffee. (Oops, laundry needs changing now!) I sit down. This all takes usually an hour or two, and then finally like a switch gets flipped, and I hit the “zone” and just keep typing. THEN, I could probably type for hours. I will usually write 1/2 to 2/3 of my piece and then go back to the beginning and start rewriting it – perhaps because I can’t really write the end until I’ve made some necessary modifications that occurred to me as I moved forward. The end of whatever I’m writing needs to flow logically from the beginning – so if, halfway through, I’ve seen a somewhat different direction, or I didn’t like the way I was expressing something, then I need to go back and do my next pass from hat point and try to push the flow all the way through to the finish.

And then I need more coffee…

PSW: What is it like being in the writing business?

MA: It’s a bit of a combination of wonderful and terrible. It can be wonderful, because there is no good reason to be in this business if it isn’t something you love. And so, wonderfully, you’re doing something you love. But it can be terrible because you’re in an incredibly competitive business – there are more active writers out there today than ever before in history. So it can be extremely frustrating, and I think more writers are feeling the pinch of frustration today than ever before. Ironically, our worst competition isn’t “good” writers, it’s “bad” writers. If you pick up a poorly written book, and you’re new to reading, it’s going to turn you off to the process – so every writer is harmed by the plethora of truly bad, unskilled writing that is flooding the market place through “do it yourself” and free venues.

Another hazard in the “writing business” is that many people assume it’s about “writing” and forget that it is, also, a “business.” that means all the issues of “doing business” apply. If you want to get published, you have to learn how the publishing business works. You have to learn how to find markets, develop appropriate submissions, track income and expenses, track submissions and maintain your writing AS a business. Creativity is only one ingredient in a successful writing “business”.

PSW: Your newsletter is an education in itself. How many years have you been sharing this information?

MA: Writing-World.com was founded in 2000, so it is about to head into its 15th year. The website itself offers more than 600 articles on just about every aspect of writing of every level of expertise. The newsletter is just a small part of that. Writing-World.com is one of the largest, if not THE largest, sites for writers on the web today, with the largest archive of material and one of the largest visitor rates.

Before that, I worked with Inkspot, which was in every sense the “predecessor” of Writing-World.com. Inkspot was one of the first and foremost “communities” for writers on the web, with a host of resources for writers – it was one of the first out there when the Web was still shiny and new. Prior to that, I had set up my own little “advice” site called “Tips for Writers” – I eventually transferred all that material over to Inkspot, and then to Writing-World.com. Writing-World.com was born from the ashes of Inkspot, which was “killed” by a new owner, and we were able to inherit a lot of the material that had formerly been posted on Inkspot. We just went on from there!

PSW: Do you recommend a writer to specialize in one type of writing?

MA: No, not really. I think it’s too easy to assume that you do only one thing, or like only one thing. Getting out into the “writing business” often means getting out of your comfort zone, and writing for types of publication you might not have imagined working with. It means learning to write different lengths and even different styles. There are different requirements for magazines, newspapers, online publications, blogs, etc, – and one thing tends to lead to another.

By exploring and pushing your boundaries, you may discover that there is some other aspect of writing that you never imagined you’d be good at – and you find that you like it even more than what you THOUGHT you would be writing. In a world that tries to pigeon-hole people, it’s silly to pigeon-hole yourself! Don’t ever assume, “Oh, I’d never be any good at that,” or “I’ve never done that, so I couldn’t do it.”

You may also find that the type of writing you’re comfortable with, or assume you WANT to do, is not one that will lead to a “successful” writing career. This is a career where flexibility and versatility are real advantages.

PSW: What advice do you have for new writers?

MA: Let’s go back to the issue of being aware that “a writing business” is a BUSINESS. You wouldn’t imagine going into any other business without learning the ropes. So don’t imagine that you can be truly successful as a writer without leaning how the writing and publishing business works. A lot of writers feel that their job is just to be “creative” – and then they hope someone will tell them how to take the next step (e.g., find an agent, find a publisher). But the thing is, you’re competing with the ones who DO go out there and do the research, read the articles and the books and the blogs. If you aren’t one of them, you don’t have a chance. The person who is prepared and educated is ALWAYS going to come out ahead of the person who says, “I just wrote this great book, but I have no idea what to do next, can you help me?”

The wonder of today’s online world is that writers have access to unimaginable volumes of information for free that, in my early days, you had to pay for! If you wanted to be a successful writer 30 years ago, you had to subscribe to a writing magazine or two, you had to buy books (lots of books), and you might want to take classes at a real-world night school. Today, most of what is in those books and classes can be found online for free. And yet too many new writers aren’t taking advantage of that.

So educate yourself. Find out what the writing business is about, how it works, and how to make it work for you . Don’t be scared off by the horror stories that you hear about how “no new writer can ever get published.” EVERY writer who is published today was a new writer at some pint. Of COURSE new writers get published! They get published all the time! That’s how they stop being “new writers.”

When you DO hear horror stories, identify the source. Are you being told “you don”t have a chance with traditional publishing” by someone who has a vested interest in convincing you to buy THEIR product or service? Are you being told this by someone who wants validation of the path THEY have chosen?

Finally, I supposed perhaps that most important attribute a new writer can have is PATIENCE. We live in a world where instant gratification is considered not only the norm but some sort of divine right. I want to be published – next week! Why SHOULDN’T that happen? Traditional publishing – the kind that gets your book in front of hundred of thousand of readers rather than literally, a few dozen – DOES take time, patience, frustration (lots of frustration), research, and more patience. Too many writers today are settling for what they can get NOW, rather than hanging in there for the far greater reward that comes from enduring the frustration, the disappointment, and the passage of time. Great writers don’t settle – they endure. We aren’t taught “endurance” much anymore, so those who will are those who win.

Moira Allen, Editor
Writing-World.com

Author of “Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer,” “The Writers Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals”

Moira teaches us that with a little courage and persistence you will win in the writing world. Her practical advice you too can live your dreams. Thank you so much Moira for sharing what you know so well and your words or encouragement.

For more information visit: Writing-World.com

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Deborah Perham – Personal Historian Par Excellence

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Deborah Perham\

 

Please welcome Deborah Perham from A Lifetime Legacy. Deborah is a family and personal historian based in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY. Her specialty is preserving personal legacies in the form of memoir writing classes, narrated slide shows, video biographies, treasured family recipe books, and online pet tributes for your favorite pet.

Personal History writing has been around for some time now but not many are familiar with it.

Personal Historians are professionals who help people record their life stories in some permanent form such as Deborah’s products. These stories can be as brief as a birth record or as elaborate as stories covering multiple generations, with everything in between such as a religious celebration, wedding or graduation.

PurelySimpleWords (PSW): Thank you Deborah for allowing me to tell my audience about your interesting work.

Deborah Perham (DP): You are welcome. I am honored to be here.

PSW: I was reading your website and you have a talent for putting a legacy together that puts validation to people’s lives. Tell me about your work.

DP: Well, in the early 80’s I started a court reporting agency because I was very attracted to law. I am also attracted to storytelling. It was a way to combine two of my passions. My maternal grandmother always told me stories of her life. I didn’t know why she told me these stories that happened long before I was born. As a young adult, I learned why. In the 50’s my maternal grandmother lost all her photographs in a basement flood, so throughout her life she mourned the loss of those photographs and told stories of her life to compensate for that loss. As I got older I began recording both my grandmothers’ stories because they were both very dear to me, and their stories intrigued me.

The court reporting business is about listening to peoples’ stories of an event in their life, whether it’s a slip and fall or motor vehicle accident, construction accident, medical malpractice event. I did this for 32 years until an opportunity presented itself, by surprise, to sell my business, which I did. At that time I found myself with lots of time on my hands. My husband’s job requires him to travel many weeks a year, and my three children were away at college.

I decided it was a perfect time to reinvent myself. I certainly did not have another thirty years to work the same way I did in my last profession, so instead of a complete reinvention, I examined what skills I have and what I enjoy doing. What am I completely passionate about. I am very sentimental and thought often of my grandmother mourning the loss of her photographs. I had been my family’s self-appointed family genealogist. Sometimes I would work on our family tree search and find a lot of information, at other times I would hit a brick wall.

I found people from the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s, and as I was searching, this quote would always resonate with me, “We are the result of the love of thousands.” Which led me to wonder: Who are these people? Who am I result of? Why do I do what I do? Why do I say what I say? Who am I and how did I get here today? My descendants and their lives were a complete mystery, yet all these people played a part in me becoming the person I am today.. I would wonder about “Uncle Earl” from the 1600s and know his story was gone forever.

These questions led me to discover the Association of Personal Historians and also the International Association of Story Keepers. These two organizations provide wonderful opportunities to learn about the field of personal history preservation.

Through my reinvention journey, I read about studies that illustrate the effect reminiscing has on individuals. We become more understanding people; we become kinder to strangers. I also came to realize that sharing family stories with children, stories about where they came from, and them being able to attach themselves to events in history, make them more grounded as young adults. It helps them make better decisions in life. For example: my children are now in their 20’s, and I find that by my sharing family stories with them, they have a sense of where and who they came from, and with that knowledge, they naturally became proud of their heritage and the ancestors who came before them.

It became clear to me that I wanted to work with families, individuals, companies, organization and communities to understand where they began, and to teach them the importance of knowing and preserving that information.

Basically this is how and why I decided to become a personal historian. I always enjoyed helping people, and I have taken that passion and the skills I have learned through my years of memorializing stories in my prior court reporting profession and reinvented myself as a personal historian. I do this through memoir writing, oral history slideshows, and most recently video biographies, all privately or in workshop settings.

I am also thankful to the wonderful mentors I had when I first started. They helped me on my way to my early professional career. So as a thank you to them, I mentor and teach others how to preserve their story.

PSW: I can see you put a lot of time and effort into your passion. It comes out in your website and in the way you speak so passionately about your work. Can you tell me about the difference between starting a business in the 80’s and starting one now?

DP: Starting a business in the early 80’s was so different than it is now. We used to cold call, and really had no need to get to know clients in a personal way, nor did clients need to know us. To get a job was easy, solely based on your resume and a brief interview. Jobs were plentiful then. Now it’s different. With technology available today, you can find anything out about anyone. Countless resources are available. Competition is fierce. But now it’s all about networking. People want to work with others who are not only skilled but who are people they enjoy working with. The personal historian profession lends itself to a diverse population, some historians are very old souls and that has nothing to do with age. I always meet interesting and fascinating people who keep amazing me with their stories.

PSW: Your life and work have their own unique story and it has led you to be a creative personal historian. You will do very well. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and the audience and it is my hope that you find many more clients to help. Good luck.

DP: Thank you, it was my pleasure.

 

To learn more about Deborah’s work visit her website: alifetimelegacy.com”

 

 

Karen Sackowitz – Writer – Personal Historian

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Karen S

I am re- re – posting because we are having technical difficulties on this side of the computer. This should do it.

 

Welcome the talented, energetic writer and personal historian Karen Sackowitz. She has graciously allowed me to interview her about her work. Karen is a prolific writer, business owner and busy mom.

Karen says she was born to be a writer and has done so for the majority of her life. Her personal writings eventually led her to open Sackowitz Communications and most recently, Your Stories Ink which highlights writing personal histories of very interesting clients.

PurelySimpleWords (PSW): Welcome Karen, thank you for sharing your experience with me and my audience.

Karen Sackowitz (KS): Thank you for having me.

PSW: You and I met at an Association of Personal Historians meeting a few months ago and I was immediately impressed with your energy and enthusiasm. I know you are passionate about writing and helping people through your talents. Tell me: what do you like about your work?

KS : Certainly, I have been doing a bunch of different types of writing including freelance commercial writing and marketing materials mainly for healthcare clients. I am also a freelance journalist writing for publications and magazines like the Boston Globe, Hartford Business Journal and Wilton Magazine which is in my town here in Connecticut. I also have my personal history business, Your Stories Ink.

The common theme between all of them is learning. I am insatiably curious and I love learning about things. For example, in the healthcare writing I may learn about a new surgical procedure, which is fascinating. I write the web copy for the hospital so their patients can get on line and understand what they might experience. I am learning about it and it is energizing for me.

PSW: Tell me about your journalism work.

KS: The journalism work is about meeting people and learning about their background and specialties. I did a story about a man for the Hartford Business Journal as a business subject – he was a funeral director and running a family business. I ended up talking to him for almost two hours because he is a fascinating person. He was passionate about his work, he went above and beyond for the families he worked with. He took his role serious and personally which he openly showed. This is the stuff that really gets me jazzed. I like to learn about business but especially about the people behind the business. This lead me to Your Stories Ink which is straight out “People” – tell me your story.

Whether you traveled around the world or didn’t, everybody has a story. Now I just get to listen and learn about them and be curious. The more curious I am and the more questions I ask benefits my client because they will learn more and more about the person they are capturing through personal history. I just love meeting and learning about people and their lives. This interest has come to me in many forms and that’s what keeps me going.

PSW: Bravo on your work, I know your are a very busy Mom and and entrepreneur. How do you have time to do all you do?

KS: I multitask where necessary. My husband accuses me of thinking I can bend space and time and I say because I can – what’s the problem. Kidding aside, I have learned to enlist help. When you start a new business it can be difficult because you hang on to every penny and end up doing everything yourself. Sometimes its just not possible to outsource anything, but I realize that outsourcing can come in the simplest form. Like a babysitter for eight hours a week so I can focus entirely on my business or write without distraction or interview someone. I make little investments here and there, like enlisting help where I can. I am here in F airfield County, Connecticut and my husband works in New York City so he’s not around much during the week. If I am going to have a business, clients and two young children it makes sense to hire help.

PSW: I see on your list of services you have experience writing speeches. What speeches have you written?

KS: Yes, I have written speeches. Some were for healthcare professionals who have been up for awards. I’ve written nomination as well as introductions for when they get up on stage and accept the award. Again it’s all about telling their story.

PSW: You have worked on many writing forms. What do you like to do the best?

KS: Right now I am really focused on the personal history part of my business because I am trying to build it. I have met the most fascinating people over the past few months just by putting the word out.

I met a man who started a tiny little dance school around here 50 years ago and now it’s a big chain of dance schools. Everyone knows him. Now I am learning his story. I met a former actress who is in her 80’s. Some stories don’t have to be flashy either. I have one client that is in the beginning stages of dementia, she said she did not know why her daughter wanted me to talk to her and that she really does not have a story. I answered with: Really? Because from what I understand you raised two girls on your own and worked three jobs to do it and you survived breast cancer. Let’s start there. That’s what I like about it too – making people realize that they have a really interesting story. People think they don’t but everyone does. That’s what I am really focused on and I love it.

PSW: What kind of product do you offer your clients? Will you put their story in a book or article?

KS: I am focused on books, I enjoy the written word so I have packages that start with typed manuscripts all the way up to professionally produced hard cover books with a jacket. We can incorporate photos or have a professional photographer. There are so many production options today that the book can be personalized and the client can order one or more books.

PSW: How do you balance your busy family and work life?

KS: Luckily I live in a small town so my children’s activities are within ten minutes of each other. I make sure I see my great group of friends, a girls night out or meet for coffee. I make social time everyday.

PSW: Are you still active with the group “Over 40 Females”?

KS: It’s been a while but they are a good group because they have interesting speakers and they go around the room giving you the opportunity to do a 30 second elevator speech. Also everyone gets a gift bag. You can put your promotional material in the gift bag. Your promotional material goes home with everyone. It’s a great opportunity to network too. I joined the speakers bureau which allows me to speak at an event. I realize public speaking is a huge marketing opportunity also.

PSW: You are doing great work, is there anything else you would like to add?

KS: I am pretty lucky to do what I do. I work for myself, meet great people all the time and I’m glad you are going to tell people about it.

PSW: Thank you again Karen for sharing your time and expertise with us. Good luck in all your endeavors.

Karen is an inspiration to me with her courage to be seen, show her talents and organize her professional and home life.

You can read about and contact Karen Sackowitz at: karensackowitz.com, Karen Sackowitiz Communication and Your Stories Ink on Facebook.com.