Stopping Something Old to Start Something New

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Sometimes you don’t know when the last time will be the last time, but as I was slogging through a group project for my Literacy for Emergent Learners class (btw, group projects only benefit the slackers, not the doers, as I’ve spent a lot of time “collaborating” via email and text when I could’ve been learning something and being productive), I realized that I needed to shift my focus.

When I saw the Writer’s Digest poetry prompt today, where I had to use 3 of 6 words in a list (one of my least favorite prompts, btw), I realized, after three years of participation, that it was time to retire “Writer’s Digest Wednesdays.”  November Poem-a-Day challenge will be coming soon; even though I feel I’ve mastered it, my focus needs to be on finishing school and building my (paying) writing career.  

I’ve always said that serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, so #Micropoetry Mondays and #Fiction Fridays will be a mainstay, as those posts I can schedule in advance.  My work-school-life schedule has gotten too intense, and I’m ready for the shift to less timely writing projects. 

The time I’ve spent on my Wednesday blog installments has been well-spent—it’s instilled in me the power to meet 24-hour deadlines (which are a must in the incredibly shrinking newsroom), it’s helped me write a ton of poetry I wouldn’t have written otherwise, and it’s helped me cross over the 1000-post threshold—but I’m looking forward to working on longer form projects.  

I can finally work on editing my novel (for about the eighth time).

I will still post my short Instagram poems on weekends and writing tips on my Facebook page, but it’s time to do more “behind-the-scenes” writing on a regular basis.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write something everyday; now, I want to work on projects that will take at least a week—projects I will actually take the time to edit.

I also want to learn how to illustrate my own work.

I enrolled in University, thinking I would be writing for the student newspaper regularly until I graduated, but I’m shifting focus to freelancing gigs.  I might still contribute an article if I happen to be attending an event that interests me, but creative writing will always be my first love (I don’t have to worry about transcribing audio or having to deal with flaky people whose information or interview I need to write my article).

I realize I’ve spent a lot of time writing for sure things—my blog, the college newspaper, etc.—instant gratification pieces. 

Now, it’s time to get serious and start writing those query letters.   

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Me, in one of my many offices, after a particularly trying day.

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#Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of Motherhood

Mother and child

Like the shadow of the blind,
she was with me 90 days
without my knowing—
the closest thing to God some people would
ever know.
I was her second set of footprints,
for it was I
who carried her.

She didn’t know if her daughter understood all the words,
but she read them anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter would remember
all those early trips to the park & the beach
& every other space that screamed barefoot fun,
but she took her anyway.
She didn’t know if her daughter always heard her say,
“I love you,” after she’d fallen asleep to a lullaby,
but she said it anyway.
For it was a mom’s instinct
to do good by & for their children,
not always knowing
the good it did.

“Breast is best,” they said,
but the best could not express itself.
She pumped herself sore,
for she feared for her child’s I.Q.,
her health,
& everything they said her magic milk
was supposed to do.

The Great Book Review Project

What I call “The Great Book Review Project of 2019” has been a grueling one.  I almost made it to the finish line before the official summer season ended, but I knew this would happen once I went back to school.  Though it’s been a fun challenge, I don’t think I’ll do it again, as the books I’ve chosen myself have a far better track record.  However, this process did expose me to books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. 

My biggest complaint?  When the message gets in the way of the story.  

Adults often want to teach⁠.  I had an early childhood education teacher who basically said if a book wasn’t nonfiction, it was a waste of time (for me, as a fiction writer, that was a sleight of hand across the face)⁠; she liked to “learn something from what she read.”  Reading fiction is a valuable way to spend one’s time; here is just a sample of what you get from doing so:  https://medium.com/@farrtom/the-real-world-benefits-of-reading-fiction-ccc7d8ab3f62

There were 7-10 books I didn’t end up reviewing, only because they were wordless picture books (I wasn’t quite sure what to do with those), they weren’t available at the library, or I didn’t feel I could give it a fair review because of the subject matter.  There was one that was so horrible (it promoted violence) that I didn’t even want to give it space on my blog. 

So even though I didn’t always enjoy the books (and neither did my daughter), I loved coming up with suggested activities to accompany the books.  This Christmas break (maybe), I will collect all of them and pick out my favorites, rechecking out the best books and completing the activities. This summer, we’ve just been grinding it out, trying to keep up with reading through them fast enough to get the next ones we have on hold. 

Interestingly, months after I completed this challenge, I would end up enrolling a “Literacy for Emergent Learners” class as an elective.  (Basically, I’m learning how to teach kindergartners and first-graders how to read; it’s worth it if I can just teach my own not only how to read but how to love books.)  I don’t have any desire to be a teacher (I’m way too shy for that); that is why tutoring is more my scene.  However, I do believe that taking this class will help me learn how to write for children, which is totally my scene.  

Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  It is something we can do privately without any fancy electronics.  I’ve always liked to say that books are greater than TV because all stories on screen have to first be written.  With the advent of YouTube, not so much anymore, but the great plays, films, shows, speeches, and songs must have talented writers. 

Writers matter.

Writers Matter

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This fall, I will be working towards my B.A. in Creative Writing at the University of West Florida.  I basically took an extended spring break and summer vacation.  I’d been in school four years, earning an A.A. and an A.S.

For months, I’ve proven to myself that I can make a daily deadline when it comes to my writing, but now the time has come for me to focus a greater portion of my time on honing my craft rather posting on my blog, Facebook page, and Instagram.  I’ll still post thrice weekly on SarahLeaStories (it’s nice to have two years of posts “in the can”); when it comes to the rest, that’s what a few minutes on the weekend are for.   

I will always be a writer, editor, and content creator.  I even enjoyed being a writing tutor (I’m too shy to be a teacher) for those who wanted to learn and wanted to get better; I enjoy helping people that way because I am good at it.  I will never be a fundraiser, but someday, I hope to be in the position to either give back or pay it forward.  My last job inspired that in me, for I had no idea how much private money went to help students, even though I had been the recipient of some scholarships.

While at the Foundation, I also got the opportunity to do a write-up for the local newspaper about alumni who have “made good,” and by that, I mean that they “did good.”  (They were also genuinely friendly.)  
 https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2019/05/23/pensacola-state-college-honors-distinguished-alumni-awards-gala/3747764002/

I am proud of my work, of all the writing I do, and no one will ever take that from me or make me feel ashamed because it is “all I want to do.”  I am pursuing my passion, with passion, and every day that I show up and do my job to the very best of my ability, it isn’t just because I have pride in any work I do or because I have bills to pay, but it’s so that I can live another day to write what I want and share it with anyone who is interested enough to read it.  Maybe my writing won’t build buildings, but it has helped me build relationships.  And when my writing makes someone smile or laugh or be inspired in some small way, I feel that is one of my contributions to the world.  

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #495: For (Blank)

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For the Love of Chocolate

Whenever she scored a 50-cent KitKat,
she’d tear & peel the wrapper back
as carefully as she would
undressing a burn wound
& ever so quietly, as she would
performing a secret surgery,
for the sound of candy being opened
was a sound her daughter knew⁠—
like a K-9 knew the smell of marijuana
or a bloodhound knew the stench of expired flesh,
because she couldn’t teach her child
that sharing was good
if she didn’t do so
when the opportunity arose.
Rather than share,
she did her one better⁠—
spending a whole buck-&-a-half
for that third KitKat,
so that that second KitKat
she kept hidden
in the deep bowels of her purse
in case of emergency
would be there.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 495

The Grammar Girl Returns

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Today is the day I start my Baccalaureate program as a Creative Writing major.  I was fortunate to be able to take two months off from work to read, write, and spend time with my family; I even got to catch up with friends.  I got back into the habit of strength training (as weightlifting doesn’t sound very feminine) and took up water aerobics; I’ve also focused on updating all my online presences (including my portfolio), professionalizing them for potential employers as well as uploading my resumes to all the usual suspects (e.g. Indeed, Glassdoor, etc.).  The university I am attending also provided invaluable feedback on my resume and cover letters.  

After refreshing my Upwork account, I was hired as an independent contractor to proofread documents submitted by Grammarly clients.  Even though I work from home, the job has a very Silicon Valley startup feel, which I love.  I am learning so much already; it’s a great gig.  Though there is nothing quite like being able to set your own hours, walk into the next room to go to work, and never answer a telephone, I will always be the type of person who has to have an outside job where I communicate face-to-face.  I’m a people person who also happens to be an introvert.

In addition to my jobs as an office assistant at uni and as a professional writing tutor, my plate will be full, but it will be full of things I enjoy, and that makes all the difference.  

Writerly and Grammarly,
Sarah Richards, Class of 2022

She’d graduated a Titan
before The New Millennium,
watching her training grounds
as a gladiator
in the public school arena
disappear.
Loosely prepared
to become a Pirate,
she laid down
her educational armor,
only to pick it up again
with eyes wide open,
diving head first
into the land of magnolias,
with their spinach green leaves
& mascarpone white petals.
Now, well-prepared
to become an Argonaut,
her armor fortified
with precious mettle,
she dove once more,
under graying canopies
of Spanish moss.
As a Titan,
she had brought home
the bronze medallion;
as a Pirate,
the silver chest;
but as an Argonaut,
she would put upon herself
the Golden Fleece
& battle with her wits
that had no end.

My 1000th blog post! Then & Now

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Sarah Lea Stories was born in the blogosphere as sarahleastories@wordpress.com, eventually graduating to https://sarahleastories.com/

My first blog post was published on October 24, 2013:  https://sarahleastories.com/2013/10/24/the-treasury-of-the-sara-madre/.  I was a new mom, practically a newlywed, and hadn’t even started college yet. 

Since 2013, SLS has gone through many incarnations.  I was actually pretentious enough, once upon a time, to call myself The Populist Poetess; now I’m The Post-It Poet, bridging brevity with gender neutrality (I still prefer the terms actress and sculptress, but no one uses poetess).  Now, my concentration is on getting my B.A. in Creative Writing in three years (or less) and editing everything I’ve written thus far.

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It’s rather serendipitous that my 1000th blog post would fall on this day–as I finally made it to the local writer’s group I belong to–reconnecting (outside of Facebook and one-on-one chats over lunch or coffee) with friends I’ve known since before I started this blog (and making a new one).  It’s been at least two years since I’ve attended a meeting.  Throughout the months, perhaps even years, I’ve sort of kept up with the group through the monthly group emails, not realizing how much I’d missed it, missed them, till I went back today.

I’d gotten acquainted with the group through a Facebook political page in 2012 (the page’s administrator was a local woman).  No dues, only kind critiques were required.  It was perfect.

I always learn something from each of the members, who generally share their news and a piece they’ve written; sometimes we do a writing exercise.  This month’s prompt was to create a Twitter account for a deceased person (their handle, bio, and maybe even a web address), which became homework.  I’m not on Twitter anymore (it’s so impersonal, and there’s a lot of ugliness), but I love fun, short challenges like this.

We’re a diverse group–writing everything from magazine nonfiction to children’s books to blog posts to creative writing.   Today, I read a piece I’m submitting to Shutterfly for a $500 gift card contest, writing from the perspective of the giver rather than the receiver.  

It was just so good to be able to share something in my own voice.

Every book I’ve created through Shutterfly has had special significance, and I don’t just give them to anyone.  So many hours, I’d be in the Writing Lab with its giant monitors, perfecting them, reading them aloud where no one would hear me.  That Lab was where I spent most of my lunches for the several months I worked at the college after graduation. 

I am practically the unofficial brand ambassador for Shutterfly and am finalizing my ninth and tenth book through the site.  

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Writing is what I want to do more than anything else, and if it’s in technical writing, so be it.  It is still writing and every experience I have, whether it be writing press releases, biographies for an event program, articles for a newspaper, etc., it all helps me become a better writer.  Even when I worked for my alma mater’s Writing Lab, I learned so much.  It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Practicality is what compelled me to major in Health Information Technology, but the only class I enjoyed (and I enjoyed it quite a lot) was Medical Terminology.  I still have a medical dictionary one of my professors gave me, but beyond that, it was excruciatingly painful to sit through those courses.  About halfway through the program, I realized I liked the idea of wearing scrubs and working evenings (not being an early morning person) in a big hospital more than I would like the work.  I could write about those things, but I could never be those things.  

I am finally pursuing what I’ve always wanted to do full-time.  I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and I am blessed to be able to do that now.  It just took four years of surviving, of barely making it financially, to get to that point.  

That said, no matter where life takes me careerwise, I will always blog at least twice weekly; I’ve learned a lot through blogging process:  how to schedule posts in advance, increase my SEO (by using key words), and add share buttons for Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera–all basic but useful things.  Now if WordPress would just put more attractive ads on my page (without me having to pay to take them off), that would be the cats.

As I prepare for uni, I realize I’ve been writing so much that I haven’t been taking the time to edit anything, including my Southern Gothic horror novel, which I “advertise” on Fiction Fridays:  https://sarahleastories.com/category/fiction-fridays/.

While in school, I’m going to read a lot more nonfiction (about writing), finalize my book, and wrap up all my unfinished writing projects–not to mention all the writing I’ll be doing for class.  I have the prolific thing down; I just need the perfecting, the polish.   

My biggest advice to other bloggers is that you need readers who aren’t writers–people who won’t expect anything in return except great content.  Keep cranking it out, but always bank your marketable works to submit for paying opportunities.  That is why I only post poetry (i.e. my streams of consciousness with line breaks), book reviews, and the occasional personal essay (by the time most of my essays got published, it would be old news)–never chapters of my novel, short stories, or any portion of my children’s nursery rhyme collection, which I plan on hiring a student to illustrate (same goes for my book cover).  

 By the time I reach my 2000th post, I want to have:

  • Finished editing my novel, Because of Mindy Wiley, and have it ready to publish:  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/
  • Finished my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, Golden Plates and Silver Spoons
  • Been published in the print (or online) edition of The Saturday Evening Post
  • Making a good living writing (or where writing is part of the job) 
  • Graphically designing all my blog post images myself, eliminating the need for stock photos (and using my own photos whenever possible).  I became aware of just how awful stock photography was (not the quality of the image but the lack of originality on my part) when I saw an image I’d used for one of my posts elsewhere (in three different places)
  • Read at least 100 books on writing (and reviewed them)
  • And, most importantly, developed a lifelong love of books in my daughter–she already requests “Punch and Judy” every night, which is a delight

And, by my 2000th post, I will have graduated from college a second time.  For a while, I had considered being a polysomnographer (my dad has sleep apnea) or doing something with hearing aids (I have unilateral hearing loss), but being honest with myself and true to myself led me on the path that I should’ve taken all those years ago.

Writerly and Grammarly,
Sarah Richards, Class of 2022