Spiritual Writing

Unique Spiritual Gifts: Uncover Them Through Writing

Faith LetterpressSince we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12: 6-8)

I have been teaching monthly spiritual writing classes, where people can work on identifying the specific gifts that God has given them and where we can support one another in the journey. What’s amazing about these classes is that people who don’t necessarily identify themselves as writers find meaning in what we do. The biggest challenge, really, is defining what – for the purposes of our classes, anyhow – spiritual writing really is.

I’ve found three ways to explain it that seem to help. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too!


Sharing Your Spiritual Stories

prayer to heaven - faith conceptI’ll be leading a series of spiritual writing workshops, free and open to the community. The workshops will be held at Heritage Presbyterian Church (intersection of Route 58 and 2 in Amherst, Ohio) on the second Monday of each month from September 2014-May 2015 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Each month, please bring paper and a pen, along with one to two cans or boxes of non-perishable foods for distribution through Heritage’s food ministry program. Dates of the seminar are:

September 8

October 13

November 10

December 8

January 12

February 9

March 9

April 13

May 11

If you have any questions, you can leave a comment below or email me at kbsagert@aol.com or call me at 440-670-6624. I hope to turn the materials I’m creating for this class into an ebook.


Creative Writing Exercise


Pink waterlilyI was fortunate enough to take a creative writing class from master instructor Eva Shaw and, as one exercise, she had us write as if we were a color — meaning writing in first person.

I got the nicest compliment from Eva about my submission, which made me smile: I think you’ve just created the ultimate essay on pink, Kelly. So dramatic and filled with excellent visual cues. I’m never going to think of pink the same way again—fresh and thoughtful prose.

Here’s my freewriting:

I am strawberry sherbet pink, the color of the carpet Grandma chose after Grandpa died and she could finally throw out all of the dingy grays, grimy browns and muddy greens.

I am the tinge in a young woman’s cheeks when she realizes that, yes, he really does care about her, after all. I am the color that is more modest than fire engine red, more even-tempered than Scarlett O’Hara – and yet I am more audacious than hushed Melanie, and too vibrant for funerals or Amish gatherings.

I am the hue of confidence but not of arrogance. I am the tint of healthy self-esteem but not of raging ego. I am the color of joy, but not mania. I am the shade of restraint but not limitation. I am the color of life well-chosen after years of ping-ponging between dusky shame and blood congealing into scabs.

I am the eau de fearlessness but not of recklessness. I am the color of pride but not a shade that condemns others or compares our songs. I am pink. Strawberry sherbet pink swirled with just a touch of cream, rich cream, luscious cream.

I am the healthy color of a baby’s bottom after a warm bath, the color of a mother’s nipples after breastfeeding. I am pink. I say it decisively – I am pink – without any need to shout over your colors.

I am pink. Strawberry sherbet pink. Lovely, illuminating, life-affirming pink. Praise God, praise God, praise God. I am finally truly pink.

If you were doing this exercise, what would you write?


Tag! You’re It

vecchi tempiLast week, my friend Janet of JanetGivens.com fame asked me if I’d play in a writerly game of tag — and I said sure.  I just needed to answer three questions and then tag one or more someones to continue the game. Here goes!

What am I working on?

Well, let’s see . . . I’m working on a book manuscript that contains Christian devotionals for writers. I’m far enough along that I’ve contacted an agent who handles this type of book and am waiting to hear back. If not – or if the answer is “no” – then I’m going to contact another agent, while continuing to work on the manuscript. I have ideas for several more Christian books, so it’s important that I get the right agent.

I’m also working on a handful of articles, one about writer’s conferences, another about ostomy care, and another one a devotional. I’m also researching a local history topic for a book I’ll write for my library.

Why do I write what I do?

I try to write material that will help other people and make a difference. For example, two years ago, I helped to found the annual Northeast Ohio Christian Writer’s Conference; the experiences that I’ve had with conference planning and with interacting with attendees inspired the book manuscript. I had a colostomy for eight months and, again, wanted to help others with what I’d learned along the way.

How does my writing process work?

Depends! For more straightforward nonfiction, I can brainstorm the structure inside my head and then I contact people to interview, if applicable, and begin to lay out the skeleton of the article in a Word document. Early on, I don’t worry about how perfectly all reads. I just want to get it down, because that part can be sort of painful to me. Once all starts to come together for me, though, I get excited about the project again and I love to tweak and improve.

For fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir or devotional type material, I usually have an image or feeling in mind and then I freewrite for a while to get it out. I’m often surprised by where I end up.Night driving on an asphalt road towards the headlights

Someone once explained the writing process to me this way: when you drive on a dark night, the headlights illuminate a bit of road ahead of you and you simply trust that, when you get to the end of that geography, the headlights will illuminate the next section of road. And, that’s what writing can be like for me, when it strays from straight nonfiction.

I often find more insight into where to go next on my more creative work after sleeping, so I give my subconscious brain a lot of credit, whereas my conscious brain does more of the heavy lifting for white bread nonfiction.

Next up: Valerie Bordeau at http://freelancewritersacademy.com/


In Defense of Imagination

"IMAGINE" Letter Collage (imagination creativity dreams ideas)When I was a child, I’d spend a week of the summer at my grandparents. Early to bed, there, on a green-and-gold, foldout sofa in the living room; early to rise, with juice and toast, crumbs wiped up as soon as I’d finished–and a lukewarm bath in a scant few inches of water. Waste not, want not, my grandmother would say, spreading out damp paper towels by the sink to dry.

They lived in an apartment in Akron, Ohio, and there was an outdoor pool in their complex. We’d swim in the chemically blue water, pinning a tag on my suit that identified me as the guest of a resident, but we’d never broach the deep end of the pool. My grandmother swam daily, but a near drowning incident in her teens left her fearful of my swimming in water over my head.

They’d take me to a movie and out to a restaurant where I twirled spaghetti on a fork and learned to love ginger ale. My grandfather, who walked regularly, took me along–but that’s when the trouble began.

He’d steer me to the sidewalk in front of the golf course, and he’d stuff stray balls into his pocket. He’d suggest that I enjoy watching the tiny rabbits, their noses twitching, and he’d comment on the clearness of the sky. But, he was just postponing the inevitable. I wanted to walk to the cemetery.

cemetery 2

He’d plead and he’d beg, but I stood firm. He’d have an urge to collect more golf balls, but I was having none of it. He’d ask if I was hungry, but I wasn’t falling for that old trick. “I know!” he’d finally say, snapping his fingers, desperation in his eyes. “Your grandmother can take you for another swim!”

I remember the slump of his shoulders–the slouch of resignation when he finally caved. I’d sprint from one worn down gravestone to another, rubbing my fingers over long-ago dates smoothed away by time and weather, fascinated by the biblical names, the large size of the families and the almost gruesome acceptance of death that wafted out from verses carved on the tombs.

I’d share stories with my grandfather, certain that I knew the secrets of those interred in that dirt. “Look over there!” I’d shout with glee. “Benjamin buried three wives before he died – wanna know why?” And, before he could answer, I’d spin out childish tales brimming with mystery, intrigue and woe.

My grandfather invariably treated my melodramas with kindness and respect, and he never interrupted, but when I was deposited home with my parents, he’d shake his head, making this comment. “Kelly . . . well . . . things went great . . . but . . . she has TOO much imagination.”

They’d huddle about then and figure that, eventually, I’d “grow out of it.”

Imagination. It’s seen as a kissing cousin to telling lies, and that’s a shame. There should be a title for those of us with imagination, something we could wear as a badge of honor, but I don’t know quite what. “Imaginators” is the best that I can come up with, and that isn’t very good.

Imaginators, fortunately, are a tough breed, hanging tight under the withering glances of the deprived, and flourishing when together. About twenty of us met at the Firelands Writer Center Retreat in the summer of 1998, held at a private summer home on the beaches of Marblehead. Bob Henry Baber, a poet who earned his Ph.D. in creative writing, led us through a weekend of telling stories, and he encouraged our imagination.

Bob brought a memory jar, and when he tipped it over, out spilled beads, Display of small pottery tagines and ashtrays in Meknesbuttons, pins, army men, skeletons, marbles, plastic baby bottles and empty spools of thread. Earrings might be missing their once prized faux pearls and the sequined toy elephant no longer had four legs, but these became blessings, rather than curses, their brokenness simply woven into the fabric of the stories that they inspired.

Each person chose one or more of the memory jar pieces, then created an impromptu story from its parts. The range of these tales was incredible. People, many of whom had never before met, revealed fears and resentments, shared tears, confessed sins, remembered connections and celebrated visions.

For my story, I selected a cameo, along with a round and solid gold circle and some dice. The cameo, with its woman in a bun profile, reminded me of my great-grandmother. She once owned a round, gold pocket watch, similar to the broken piece of jewelry. I then shared the only conversation I recall having with her, one where she lamented the difficult chores that women performed at the turn of the century.

This memory triggered reminiscences of other conversations with women who have resented the impositions and restrictions of traditional female roles. I believe that I chose the dice because of my desire to gamble with nontraditional risks.

woman making the ok sign in fron of a grouppeopleCommon themes emerged during this weekend retreat. Many of us, myself included, struggle with the issue of approval–society’s approval, family approval, approval from peers. While longing to discard meaningless conventions, we fear too much flaunting.

And, Bob agreed that it’s tough to share truths, especially ones that aren’t sanitized and smelling sweet. “Writers, poets and storytellers, though,” he said, “need to fight political correctness and to make value judgements. When we become reluctant to state our judgements and to reveal our truths, this leads to homogenized stories, ones that taste like plain, white bread.”

He led further dialogue, analyzing components of the stories told. He pointed out telling lines–telling because of succinctness, poignancy or humor, and, while no critiquing took place, people asked questions. How did this object remind you of this story? Why did you tell your story this way? Have you considered telling a second story, by taking this line and expanding upon it? Maybe this is where your true story lies.

Couple cook by bonfire romantic night countrysideStories ranged from elemental and tactile impressions of an object, to tales that evolved and completed a circle. One writer (one, ironically enough, whose story did not come full circle) shared her enjoyment of the objects in the story jar that were shaped like circles.

Reasons for participating varied. One person was indulging in the sheer pleasure of companionship of like-minded people; another attended the workshop for professional training; and another hoped to gain skills necessary to participate in the vivid and dramatic storytelling occurring at the home of his Italian in-laws.

Intriguing debates arose. Did we choose a memory jar object because we wanted, consciously or subconsciously, to tell a specific story? Or did the object itself inspire the tale? What is truth? If two people attended the same event, then presented a different version, is only one person telling the truth? Or is truth always filtered through the experiences of the teller? What about multiple layers of truth?

Could we have created these same stories without an audience? How important are group dynamics to the birth of our tales? How would the details change if a parent were added to the mix? An enemy? A lover?

If we share the story of another, what moral obligation do we have to obtain his or her permission to tell and/or publish? Can we use the true experiences of another to jumpstart our stories, then add our own conclusions? How strictly must we adhere to exactly-what-happened?

Bob acknowledged that this last issue can be tough to tackle, and he offered this perspective. “It’s okay to stretch the truth, because there’s so little to go around. Storytelling, almost by definition, distills life into super-life, turning it into verbal drunkenness.”

Verbal drunkenness. For those of us who become intoxicated by words, we can occasionally–or not so occasionally–blank out exact details. When, for example, my grandfather and I were at the cemetery, I can picture him veering off to one side, standing at the edge of the grass, watching a train roll by. In my memory, he always did that at the cemetery, but common sense and the variability of train schedules tell me that’s not possible.

A grave stone leans, Devon churchyard, England

Does it matter? I’m with Bob, because I don’t think so. Instead, I hope that someday we can all cherish the stories of our lives, celebrating the joyousness of raw inspiration and declaring freedom from the mundane. And, while my grandfather-of-the-cemetery-visits now rests in one, I’m certain that he is still, somehow, cheering me on, shaking his head and laughing with delight whenever I remember to honor my own imagination.


Part 2: Yes . . . I have been blogging. Honest.

Blog concept in word tag cloudHere are the blog posts that I’ve written recently for The Search Guru. Hope you find them to be helpful!

Writer’s block: Whether you believe in writer’s block or not, we all have times when our creativity flows more easily — and times when it doesn’t. This post shares solutions to brainstorming creative ideas from multiple professionals in the field.

Writing mentors: Several writers chime in on the topic of what makes a good writing mentor – an invaluable relationship once you find the right person — and share their own stories.

Accepting writing critiques: Find out how to choose the right critique partner(s) and how to avoid becoming defensive so that you can get the most out of quality writing critiques.

Offering writing critiques: Discover tips to help you provide more helpful critiques to other writers, including knowing when to push and when to back off.

Managing the writer’s ego: If there were a set of deadly sins for writers, over-confidence would surely be on the list. Here is a plan to prevent ego from hurting your writing career.

Courage to write: Here, I interview Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. He provides tips on how to use fear to create your best writing, rather than writing around the fear.

What topics would you like to have covered? Let me know!


Vulnerability in Writing

Apprehensive girl closed her eyes with her hands

Even though most of us, thankfully, won’t ever need to confess to crapping the bed, we will all have moments when human dignity seems a distant memory.

If we’re writers, we’re going to be tempted to write about those moments – and even put our stories where other people can read what we’ve written. That can be risky, even borderline masochistic. My grandmother, for example, once told me that “ladies’ names and ladies’ faces are never seen in public places.” And yet, here I am, ready to write about . . . well, you know.

And, when I imagine my younger son reading this, I see a deadpan expression and hear these words: “Oh, Mother . . . you didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t.”

Over the past 14 months, I’ve had four colon surgeries, three of them extensive, plus five colon stretchings. In a stretching, a colonoscopy-like outpatient procedure, “balloons” of increasing diameter are inserted into the colon, theoretically stretching its capacity and fighting against collapse.

As for the four surgeries:

January 2013: The first removed 18 inches of a weak section in my colon, an area that repeatedly perforated.

July 2013: The second was a life-saving measure, after the reconnection area collapsed and a rupture of the large intestine was imminent. If we didn’t proceed immediately, I was given three possibilities by the surgeon:

1)      My colon would rupture and I would die

2)      My colon would rupture and they would be able to save me with “horrific” results

3)      I’d start vomiting up feces, which would buy me more time

October 2013: The third surgery reconstructed damaged areas of the colon. The reconstruction work, overall, was more extensive than anticipated.

March 2014, one week ago today: The fourth one was a stoma reversal. I hope this is the last.

Since the fourth surgery, I’ve been reflecting on the entire experience – and I keep imagining an outstretched hand: my lifelines.



My lifeline: the nurse button

After the surgeries, I was grateful just to be able to push a button for a nurse when I needed water, or pain or anti-nausea medicine.

They also took on less pleasant tasks in response to my button-pushing, as I needed to be regularly catheterized after my bladder “froze” and I couldn’t empty my bladder for 67 hours, post-surgery. Then there was the time that I needed to have what we formally called “stool” cleaned up from the bed when my aching sphincter couldn’t perform; a quote from my rescuing angel was a bit earthy: Never, she warned me, in the hushed tones of a night-shift nurse, trust a fart.

At that embarrassing moment, one where I thought I might never smile again, her pithy advice and her “oooh . . . my goodness” expression caused me to laugh out loud, which was just the medicine I needed. 


My lifeline: my nurses

They often reached out their hands to help me, without even being asked, whether that meant fluffing up my pillows or smoothing sweaty hair from my forehead or, in some cases, literally covering my ass when I couldn’t physically do it myself. They also made sure I ate, something I didn’t necessarily want to do.

Even an exhausted, less than sympathetic nurse helped. Shortly after my emergency surgery, I was back in the hospital, dealing with dehydration. For whatever reason, this was the only time throughout this crazy year-plus that I simply cried.

The nurse scolded me, telling me that I wasn’t going to get any better if I didn’t find a way to eat and drink. And, although I wanted – and deserved – more compassion, her approach got me to realize that, whatever the magic ticket, it certainly wasn’t what I was doing at the moment, which I was perceiving as self-pity. That led me to a discussion with the ER doctor about temporary prescription-strength nausea medicine that would allow me to get the nutrition I needed.

My lifeline: my family and friends

Post surgeries, my parents put food in front of me, three times a day, when the thought of food was the furthest thing from my mind. They gave me their downstairs bedroom and 24-hour access to their downstairs bathroom after my three largest surgeries.

My husband was there for me throughout the entire experience. One day, I couldn’t deal with stoma issues on my own. In July, remember, I’d needed surgery to prevent a colon rupture. To do so, the surgeon cut a hole into my abdomen, pulled up an inch or so of colon above the surface and cut a hole into the colon so that waste could empty, providing pain relief and preventing rupture. To deal with the waste, a medically-designed bag is attached, via specially designed tape, over the stoma. The bag needed to be changed regularly – and emptied even more frequently. Before the surgery, I’d looked about 4 months pregnant; post-surgery, I could visibly watch my belly begin to flatten.

Although I independently cared for my stoma for all eight months that it existed, one day it overwhelmed me. That’s because, although my colon now had an efficient way to drain the backed-up waste from my body, the calming-down distention was not shrinking in an even and regular manner. Of . . . course not.

So, on that day in question, I couldn’t get the tape on my stoma device to attach to my body, which meant that there was no way for the bag to capture feces. Not a good situation. And yet, I was exhausted enough from the massive surgery and accompanying ill health, and frustrated enough by the challenges that I was ready to give up attaching the bag – and so my husband calmly stopped overseeing tight-deadline production work, drove home and got the tape to properly adhere. Problem solved.                   

After my recent surgery, the hospital chaplain showed up to visit, almost immediately followed by my minister. One pastor stood on one side of my bed, with the other, on the other. They each took one of my hands and then they joined hands, forming a circle of prayer. Afterwards I told them that I’d never before been spiritually tag-teamed and, actually, it felt pretty darned good.

Vulnerability in writing

Practically speaking, getting this story down will give me an example of what I mean about becoming more vulnerable, which will help me to mentor other writers – and, let’s face it, I sometimes shine my own tiara so brightly in my memoir writing, writing as though I live the perfect little princess life, that my advice can border on hypocritical. (Feel free to change “can border on” to “is.” It’s more succinct as well as more truthful.)

the back of a young woman with text

More importantly, some of the best writing I’ve ever read happened because the writer became vulnerable, even raw. And, by raw, I don’t mean vulgar. I don’t mean, for example, that I’m finally talking publicly about my poop; therefore, I am vulnerable. If that’s all it took, I could call it shit and double my brilliance. How simple was that? Wow. I could share how, early on, I’d miss the toilet when emptying the bag and triple my genius; share how it smelled and, voila! Rawness, quadrupled.

In other words, by raw, I don’t mean simply using words, phrases and images that are blunter than other choices. I mean to focus less on the polish when it’s at the expense of intimacy, whether emotional, psychological or spiritual. I often encourage other writers to delve more deeply, to exchange some of the sparkle and clever phrasing for more of the genuine in their writing. Glossing over the yucky stuff may help writers feel less naked – and yet, that’s the devil’s bargain when the connection between writer and reader is diminished.

In an earlier draft of this story, I stopped here. I had, I felt, said enough, perhaps too much, at least by my grandmother’s standards. Bathroom habits, after all, should typically remain private. It’s time, I thought, to go back to work in my mythical four-story ivory tower, remaining on the most protected top floor, window shades drawn, writing about pretty little things that make me smile. Maybe cats. Oooh, I do love cats. Or history. I so love history. Or, what about a recipe? Everybody loves a good recipe!


On the other hand, my anger at what has happened to me is making that less and less possible. I find myself wanting to fling aside my heavy drapes and, yes, I even want to open my window! I want to shout at the passersby, berating them for the simple things they’ve taken for granted – even worse, what they continue to take for granted.

I want to single one out, humiliate him. “You have a belly button, don’t you?” I envision myself taunting. “You don’t have the sense God gave a goose, do you? Not even the sense God gave a stink bug. You walk around with that belly button, every single day, every single frigging day and night, never once feeling grateful that your abdomen” – at this point, I’ll lift up my shirt, revealing my scars – yes, every single inch of my twisted ugly scars, my personal roadmap to hell – hoping that he gasps. “You’ve never once even felt grateful, you son of a bitch,” I mock, making sure that he feels the entire weight of his transgressions. “You aren’t even grateful that you HAVE a belly button, our God-given right as human beings, while I, while I, while my gut is chopped hamburger.”

I now need to climb out onto the ledge, that tiny, chipped – even crumbling – granite perch that exists just outside the window on the fourth floor of my ivory tower, so that this unacceptable wretch of a human being can see that my so-called belly button is gone, eaten up by godforsaken scar tissue, gobbled up by blood and pain. “Does this make you happy? Do you even care?”

This man, he just keeps walking, which infuriates me further, so I lift a foot off the ledge so that I can lean in even closer to that little bastard. “Are you listening to me? Can’t you see me? Don’t you dare ignore me!”

As he walks on by, I wonder – do I need to jump off this freaking ledge to get somebody to notice what’s happened to me? If so, I will. Damn right. I will.

The bottom line

Deep breath time. More than one, for sure.

Without question, I feel thoroughly spanked by life, physically punished beyond the sum total of anything and everything that I’ve ever collectively done to anyone else, intentionally or unintentionally, passively or aggressively, been caught doing or “gotten away with,” punished more harshly than what I’d known was possible.

“What have I done,” I want to tearfully ask that uncaring stranger passing by my ledge, “what have I done to deserve this? Tell me. Please tell me. Can’t you at least tell me?”

Maybe, I think, maybe I need to run down all four flights of stairs, even though my doctor might cringe, to catch up to this man. “Do you need me to tell you that I’m sorry?” I might breathlessly ask him. “That I’m sorry that I yelled at you when your only transgression was to walk down my street? Do I need to grovel? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?”

My heart pounds as I write these words. And yet, even though my body and spirit have been unmercifully beaten, I somehow feel incredibly blessed. How these two truths can exist in tandem, I don’t know. I’ll leave that question to the philosophers. I only know that they do.

Happy celebrating winning success woman sunset


I am blessed. I haven’t lost faith in tomorrow. I have the saving grace to be able to laugh at life’s absurdities and to be surrounded by people with marvelous senses of humor.

I don’t simply feel surrounded by love. I feel immersed in love.

I am also unaccountably, inexplicably and utterly joyful, free floating in who I am, in what I have in my life and its immense untapped possibilities. Life is just so good. I literally ache because of its goodness. I want to embrace it all but there is simply too much for my arms to hold, its sweetness too enormous.

And even though I may never be able to find the right words to share those feelings, if I can help to pass along even a percentage of them to others, if I can share even a snippet of the paradise that I’ve glimpsed, oh-so-barely glimpsed, then I’m already in the place where human dignity – true human dignity – abides, forever and ever. Amen. 


Yes . . . I Have Been Blogging. Honest.

Blog concept

Even though I’ve clearly fallen down on blogging on this site, I have been blogging regularly on writing topics. Here’s what I’ve written recently for The Search Guru:

  • Interview of K.D. Sullivan: K.D. is a well published writer and CEO of Untreed Reads Publishing. Find out what K.D. has to say about proofreading and more, including the importance of style sheets.
  • Proofreading tips: Here, I interviewed numerous professionals to find out how they proofread – and I also share stories of embarrassing misses and near misses, including one of my own.
  • How to show empathy in writing: For Valentine’s Day, I blogged about the effect of true empathy and how to cultivate the trait for more effective writing (and overall living, for that matter!).
  • Finding expert sources: Newer writers often find themselves in a Catch-22 situation when they attempt to get experts to bolster up the authority of their writing. Here are practical solutions to the dilemma.
  • Power of storytelling: Storytelling skills are important to develop. Here’s why.  People like to connect with other people – and storytelling is a perfect vehicle to create connections.
  • Jargon in quality content: Here is a defense – kind of, sort of – of the use of jargon in quality content, at least in certain situations.
  • Breaking through online noise: There is so much content online nowadays, with each piece shrieking for our attention. How do we smash through that noise and what is the proper role of controversy in content?
  • Year of the audience: “Content is king.” That phrase appears all over online – and is great for writers to hear. It boosts our egos. But, I predict that 2014 will really be the year of the audience. Find out why.
  • Trusted sources: It’s hard enough sometimes to find sources for journalistic pieces of writing, and it can be harder still to decide which ones are the most reliable. Here is my take on the situation.
  • Targeted content through personas: “Personas” is one of today’s common buzzwords. What is the value in creating personas? What is the process? Find out more.

Blog concept in word tag cloud

Here, I wrote a guest blog post about finding the best writing assignments in the Searching for the Happiness blog. In the post, I share five important characteristics found in many successful writers, along with places to find quality assignments.

And, finally, at the Freelance Writers Academy, I write about ways in which newer writers can get assignments from magazine editors.

What topics would you like to see covered? Let me know!


Benevolent Dictator

You must be: Old Teacher

  • Wildly creative, while following the precise rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Assertive with editors, while sticking to their exact guidelines

And you must be willing to:

  • Keep an editor up to date with your progress, without bothering her
  • Work hard on a project, with no guarantee of another assignment

For seven years, I worked as a freelance writer, toiling under that unspoken job description, and it was tough treading those invisible boundaries with editors. Then, from 1997-2001, I worked as the managing editor of a magazine in Ohio. Those years were extremely rewarding and enlightening, and they gave me a chance to see the unique challenges inherent in the other side of the publishing equation.

Life of a magazine editor

Editors must ensure a magazine chock-full of quality writing and attractive photos, while adhering to tight deadlines and a strict budget. Editors are balancing the needs and wants of freelance writers, photographers, graphic designers and advertisers, and they may also be writing for the magazine and generating its publicity.

And most editors, contrary to what you may have heard, are decent human beings, sympathetic to the writer’s plight. They want you to succeed in producing a fine article for their magazine and they understand when your child catches the chicken pox, when you get called for jury duty or when your source stands you up for a vital interview.

An editor, however, is also the dictator of the magazine. Fudge a few facts, invent fictitious expenses or pester the editor during crunch time – and buss that publishing relationship good-bye. No court of appeals exists.

Hot Topics

So, use common sense in your conversations with editors, and do NOT allow these phrases to exit your lips:

  • Editor B at Magazine C allows me to do this. (Fine. Go work with him.)
  • Next year, Magazine Q is publishing my story on termites. (Blabbermouth. What are you telling other editors about us?)
  • My formatting idea is lots better than yours. (Start your own magazine then.)
  • I’ve never read your magazine before. (But you think that you can write for it?)
  • This concept cannot be expressed in 1000 words. (Then it can’t be published here.)
  • You can’t do this to me! (Sure I can.)

An editor’s symphony

These words are music to an editor’s ears:

  • Thanks for the terrific editing job you did on my last article.
  • Hope it’s okay that I turned my article in before the deadline.
  • After carefully reviewing your writer’s guidelines and a couple of sample issues, I’d like to submit the following query.
  • What else do you need from me to complete this assignment?
  • The newest issue of the magazine looks great!

Final thoughts

Then, there’s the touchy issue of money. At this point, you can consider the editor your benign adversary and you must think carefully before issuing any ultimatums. The reality is this. Editors have some flexibility in negotiating contracts and pay rates, but they, in turn, answer to the publisher. There are definite limits as to how far an editor can go – or will want to go, with a particular writer.  $100 dollar bills

It’s perfectly reasonable, however, and good business practice, to discuss financial issues and concerns with an editor. Calmly point out why you feel you should receive more money. Acceptable reasons include:

  • I’ve produced quality material for you in past issues and my articles have required little editing.
  • My clips prove that I am a seasoned professional.
  • This upcoming assignment will require extensive research.

Understand, however, that a certain magazine may not pay the rates you’d like to receive. At this point, consider the intangible rewards of working for a specific magazine, such as:

  • This editor is pleasant and we have a good working relationship.
  • The quality of the publication is top rate and it affords me good clips.
  • This magazine is a stepping-stone in the direction I’d like my writing to take.

If, after evaluating non-monetary factors, you decide the pay rate offered is not acceptable, fulfill any outstanding contracts with the publishing company and gracefully decline any future assignments. A decent editor will respect your decision and wish you well.

The editor-writer relationship is an intriguing symbiosis, one that evolves over time. Enjoy those times when your goals mesh, resolve inevitable conflicts in a professional manner and always remain true to your own personal writing missions.


Excuse the dust and thanks for your patience

2013 was a crazy year for me, in more ways than I can count. I’ll spare you the moment-by-moment details, which aren’t all that interesting; suffice it to say that all was capped off when I discovered that I needed to redo my website — as you can plainly see.

Excuse our dust . . .
Excuse our dust . . .


Yes, I could get the old files and upload, but I’ve decided to look upon this as an adventure, rather than a problem, and create the website I want.  In the meantime, I apologize for the sparseness of the site.