You Have to Jump

I recently saw this motivational video from Steve Harvey about “jumping.”

In it, he says that in order to truly live rather than just exist, at some point, you have to “jump.” We have to make that leap of faith by jumping off the cliff and pursuing the life we’ve always dreamed of. We can spend our whole lives standing on the edge of that cliff and playing it safe but we’ll never know what life has in store for us.

Well, I’m jumping.

Writing has always been my passion – I felt it was high time I did something for a living that I truly excelled at and enjoyed. With that in mind, I’m excited about a new direction I’m taking.

I’m pursuing a full-time career as a freelance writer. After more than five years writing feature stories for magazines and newspapers, I’m expanding my freelance writing endeavors into “commercial” writing. What is commercial writing, you ask? It includes pretty much anything a company would have to create in the course of doing business: blogs, marketing brochures,  newsletters, email campaigns, website content, press releases, case studies, and a lot more.

I’m ready to make a living doing what I love and what I’m good at – meeting people and telling stories, whether that be through feature stories in magazines, company newsletters, marketing brochures or blogs.

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It may not be easy, but I’ll never know until I go for it.

 

Let’s hear from you!  Tell us about a time that you “jumped.” What happened? What obstacles did you overcome along the way? And what advice do you have for other “jumpers,” who are taking that leap?

 

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Beginning, Middle, and End

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most of us were taught this basic principle back in our early school years when we first began reading and writing. This concept carried over to middle and high school where every essay had an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

This straightforward idea can occasionally turn out to be more of a challenge than we initially imagine. The early stages of crafting a story typically start with brainstorming and research. We read background materials, gather facts and data. We may do an interview or several interviews with different people. Somewhere in that process, an angle (or in academia, a thesis) is formed. Then the work of constructing the story begins.

But what happens when the starting point of the story isn’t clear? Once we’ve gathered all of the information, where do we begin? The first struggle is often determining where to begin to tell the story we’re trying to share. Do we tell it chronologically? Do we start with an interesting tidbit to grab the reader’s attention and branch off from there? And then, what’s next? How do we wrap this story up in a logical and interesting place?

I had this challenge recently when writing a feature article. I had done my research and the interview, and gathered my notes. But I wasn’t sure where to begin. I knew what I wanted to say I just didn’t know how to say it.

I had the whole story written and yet it wasn’t finished. It was like having a bunch of puzzle pieces – they’re all part of one big picture. It’s about discovering which ones fit together. There are many different approaches and finding the right one isn’t always easy.

I tried cutting and pasting, reordering paragraphs and just couldn’t find a sequence that felt right. Finally, I had to take the story off the Word document and onto a different format where I could work it out.

This is what my living room floor looked like.

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I created a 3×5 index card to correspond with each paragraph of my story by jotting down a few words about each paragraph on a card and laid them all out in front of me. I moved the cards around, playing with the pieces of the puzzle. After reordering them a few times, I changed my typed-up document to reflect the new sequence. When that didn’t work, I tried it again.

Until finally, I found the right fit. This exercise helped me see the story in a different way.

There isn’t any one “right” way of putting a story together. There’s something to be said for laying a story out in another visual format besides one long document on a screen. It helped me see it in another way and find a beginning, a middle, and an end that worked.

 

Have you ever had this problem when trying to tell a story? What technique helped you?

Understanding Autism

April is Autism Awareness Month and while most of us know about autism or have heard many of us aren’t very clear about what the phrase “on the spectrum” really means.

I recently took on the task of writing a feature article in honor of Autism Awareness Month for the April edition of my local neighborhood magazine.

As a writer, I’m sometimes assigned to write a story on a topic I know next to nothing about. While it can be intimidating to tackle an unfamiliar subject, I enjoy the research and discovery process. The real task is putting together the information I have gathered in an interesting way that will educate readers.

I knew very little about autism when I took on this story. I began conducting research and interviewed the Marketing and Development Director of a non-profit in Rochester, NY called AutismUp that offers support for families dealing with an autism diagnosis.

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I learned that autism is as a complex disorder of brain development that affects the way an individual perceives the world. It usually involves communication challenges that make social interaction difficult and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. Symptons can can range from social challenges to delay in motor skills and unusual responses to sensory input. Because the symptoms and severity of autism vary widely, each individual with autism has different challenges, strengths and needs.

As the symptoms of autism vary, so do the paths for treatment, which is often tailored to address the needs of each individual. I learned that nearly all children and adults with autism benefit from therapies that can reduce their symptoms and increase their skills and abilities.

The real discovery I made and what I hope readers will take away is that a “cure” for autism isn’t what is needed. What is essential is understanding and acceptance.

No matter the subject, I always write with the intention to inform, engage and perhaps even inspire readers. I was glad to write this story, and I hope it helps others in the community to better understand autism.

Feel free to check out an online portfolio of my stories, here.

Why are Writers Expected to Write For Free?

Earlier this year, I was approached at my day job by a new, local magazine that was looking for advertisers. As a freelance writer, I inquired whether this new publication was looking for writers and I was met with a resounding, yes! I contacted the editor and included my resume and writing samples. When the editor responded and asked for some story ideas for the next issue, I offered an idea and an interview subject.

It was then I was informed that, as a new publication, contributing writers would be unpaid for the time being. I was asked, did that change my decision about wanting to contribute?

When I first started writing freelance for local magazines, I wrote for free. I was new to freelance writing and was desperate for a byline and for published writing samples to build up my resume. I wrote for free for two years – probably far longer than I should have. However, it was a consistent writing gig, and a great writing experience where I got to meet a lot of interesting people and build my writing resume.

With a solid portfolio of published samples and a history of bylines I had to decide, was I going to continue to write for free?

After some deliberation, I decided the answer was no, but was left feeling disappointed that I had to turn down the opportunity because I wouldn’t be paid for it. Does that make me selfish, greedy? Or am I justified in wanting to get paid for what I do?

Other professionals don’t work for free. So why are writers expected to?Making money as a writer

There seems to be a belief that writing is easy. With so many people blogging and posting their opinions freely on the Internet, there is a myth that anyone can do it. But just because anyone can write, doesn’t mean they can write well. People also seem to think that because I am a writer, writing comes easy to me.

When I write, whether it is an article for a newspaper or magazine, a blog post, a short story or a novel, it is always hard work. I spend hours writing, rewriting, editing things out and then writing them back in.

For an article, I start with an interview. After the interview, I review our conversation, find an angle for the story and pull quotes to include that will enhance the story. Then the writing begins. It usually takes two or three tries before I find the right starting point for the story, and even once I do it is a process of writing, rewriting, and editing until I get the story to a point I feel happy with it. In the end, the per-hour pay is pretty minimal.

I don’t write because its easy, I write because I enjoy it. Being a writer certainly isn’t an easy way to pay the bills, even when the gigs are paying ones.

I understand that taking unpaid writing gigs is virtually unavoidable for a new writer breaking into publishing. But when it comes to writing for free, where do we draw the line?

Writers, how do you respond when someone asks you to write for free?

Pittsford Little League: Celebrating 60 Years

Spring is finally in the air and that means baseball season is upon us. Here in Rochester, Little League in Pittsford celebrated its 60th year.

In writing a feature story on the 60th anniversary of Pittsford Little League for Messenger Post Papers, I learned that Little League isn’t just for elementary kids anymore.

I had no idea how many options Little League offers for kids 12 and older. I talked to a senior at Mendon High School who started playing with the league when he was seven years old and continues to play as well as work with the league. Pittsford Little League offers several clinics and camps that not only give kids a chance to play in the off season, but allows the older kids to help the younger players.

In Pittsford, Little League is truly a community effort, from the coaches, parents and volunteers who give their time, to the local businesses who sponsor teams.

My favorite discovery, is that the league strives to be inclusive of regardless of ability and offers the Challenger Division for kids with cognitive and learning disabilities. These are players may have physical limitations and have “buddies,” typically community volunteers or older kids, who help them on the field.

Wherever your home team may be, go out to game, get a hot dog and watch a ball game!

You can read the full article at brightonpittsfordpost.com

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Still swinging after 60 years
As printed in the Brighton-Pittsford Post

You Need My Guy: Bringing Word-of-Mouth to the Web

A few weeks ago, I met Joe Cassara, founder and CEO of a new website YouNeedMyGuy.com.

For my first assignment for Messenger Post Papers, I sat down to talk to Joe about his idea of a website for finding service providers that is more informative than searching directories, or reading unreliable online reviews. You Need My Guy allows users to see who their friends are hiring by linking their social networks. Users simply create an account that links to at least one of their social networks. Then they list the people they love doing business with, using a phone number or email address of their “guy” and write a review. Other users searching the site can see which people within their networks already do business with these vendors and vendors can show prospective clients how they’re connected socially.

You Need My Guy isn’t just for finding contractors. User can search for service providers ranging from plumbers to photographers, from accountants to graphic designers.

Joe told me about quitting his corporate job, taking up consulting work and starting up this website all while raising three kids under the age of four.

Read the full article as printed by Messenger Post Media  here .

Webster native's new website helps find right guy for the jobMessenger Post Media

Webster native’s new website helps find right guy for the job
Messenger Post Media