Tag Archives: Writing

Because we care

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My friend and fellow writer, Doreen Pendgracs, recently wrote a blog about being a caregiver: do you care enough to be a caregiver?

I wanted to comment on it, but what I wrote was my own mini blog. With Doreen’s gentle prodding, I realized that writing about something personal can also be a valuable use of words.  So here are my thoughts.

Most of us don’t go into relationships thinking about our possible role as a caregiver, but I knew from the day I met my husband that this would be my lot in life. I was in my 20s; so young and sure I could cure the world. It didn’t happen, and fighting it only wore me down.

We were told the original illness would eventually burn out, but if it has happened, it never really ever goes away. Like a chameleon it transforms and reveals itself in new forms, and I go into my caregiver mode again as we rush to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Our daughter grew up thinking that that all of this was normal for any family. As my husband convalesced in hospital following yet another surgery I would bring her, along with paper and crayons, and she would sit there creating her make-believe worlds with the reality of pain and suffering as her quiet background. When it was time to go I would lift her up and she would carefully navigate through the mass of tubes and IV lines to give Daddy a goodbye kiss until tomorrow. How could anything so unnatural feel so normal? And yet, for us, it always was.

I believe care giving can sometimes be more draining on the person giving the care, because of all the worry we go through. And with the health care system as it is, we have to be strong advocates for those we’re caring for.

I have had to make numerous phone calls to track down the right specialist to take on a new manifestation of the illness that was once easily diagnosed. I have had to yell at interns until someone listened. And I have cried on my own when I couldn’t take anymore, but I couldn’t let anyone else see how overwhelmed I was.

I think care giving is humbling and an important role in life. We do it because we love, and because we care. And because we care we give of ourselves.

Sometimes words aren’t the messenger

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For me, words have been the tool I use to share my ideas, feelings and emotions. But when I received this e-mail, forwarded to me by my sister, Anita Boles,  Executive Director of Society for the Arts in Healthcare http://www.thesah.org I learned there are some other amazing ways to do this.

But before you watch it (the link is at the bottom of this post – if you can’t click and get into it just copy and paste the URL into your web browser) please read the preamble:

This video shows the winner of 2009′s Ukraine’s Got Talent, Kseniya Simonova, 24, drawing a series of pictures on an illuminated sand table showing how ordinary people were affected by the German invasion during World War II. Her talent, which admittedly is a strange one, is mesmeric to watch.

The images, projected on to a large screen, moved many in the audience to tears and she won the top prize of about $75,000.

She begins by creating a scene showing a couple sitting holding hands on a bench under a starry sky, but then warplanes appear and the happy scene is obliterated.

It is replaced by a woman’s face crying, but then a baby arrives and the woman smiles again. Once again war returns and Miss Simonova throws the sand into chaos from which a young woman’s face appears.

She quickly becomes an old widow, her face wrinkled and sad, before the image turns into a monument to an Unknown Soldier.

This outdoor scene becomes framed by a window as if the viewer is looking out on the monument from within a house.

In the final scene, a mother and child appear inside and a man standing outside, with his hands pressed against the  glass, saying goodbye.

The Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Ukraine, resulted in one in four of the population being killed with eight to 11 million deaths out of a population of 42 million.

Click on this link and be part of the magic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOhf3OvRXKg&feature=player_embedded.

Ghostblogger – help me write that blog!

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By nature, entrepreneurs love what they do. They own their own business. What could be better than that? But technology is making new demands on business people. In addition to looking after your business, you have to keep in touch with your clients online via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and, for some, “the dreaded” blog.

With 140 characters, Twitter is doable. LinkedIn can be linked to Twitter (#in) so you kill two birds with one 140 character-posting stone. Facebook can be a quick look each day, some comments and/or “thumbs up” and a brief status update. Then there’s the blog.

This is a much bigger piece of writing and, let’s face it, not everyone likes to write. Then there are people who say “I can write” but wonder why their words aren’t resonating with their readers.

As any professional writer will tell you, writing is hard work. Professional writers meticulously choose our words, cut back our copy until it’s half the original size, then we edit some more until it sounds just right. But we’re not done yet. We rely on editors, friends, family – or any objective eye – to read our copy and ensure that they understand and enjoy reading it because, if they don’t get it, then it’s not going to be clear to the reader. So it needs to be refined, yet again, until it hits the mark.

Writers also need to find topics to write about. By nature we’re full of ideas. We have files overflowing our desks or in boxes. We watch everything with a focused eye and eavesdrop more often than we like to admit. We ask too many questions (according to our family members who often think we’re just being nosy). We take notes (literally and mentally) and refer back to them for more ideas.

Sound tough? It can be. But professional writers love the challenge. For us, working with words and the process that goes with it is a labour/labor of love.

But if you’re not in love with writing, or you enjoy the process but aren’t getting what you want from your blog, here are some tips that might be helpful, in no specific order:

1. Make it relevant. Everything is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. Make your topic enduring (like a suit that doesn’t go out of style for a while), so it’s relevant to anyone who drops by to read it today, or a year from now.

2. The first few words are key. Every writer knows the lead (or lede) has to grab the reader. When it comes to online posting, you get a few seconds for the reader to decide to stay or move on.

3. Keep up the momentum. Your first sentence or paragraph could be the best thing ever written. Great! But keep that momentum going so the reader wants to stay with it until the final sentence.

4. Keep it simple. Get rid of the jargon (words that are tossed around in your professional area of expertise but mean nothing to your target market or the average reader). Use plain language (bloated sentences filled with lofty words only make people feel uncomfortable and aren’t going to endear them to you or your product/service).

5. Speak with a friendly voice. Just like the way we talk, everyone has their own “writing voice.” Read what you’ve written aloud. Listen to the words. Do they sound like you’re talking directly to the reader and making them feel comfortable? It should.

6. Don’t overdo the tech stuff. It’s great to link to a YouTube posting that fits perfectly with your blog posting, but readers will soon tire of watching  those clips that aren’t always that professional. Same thing goes with fancy flash files that take a while to download. If the reader can’t get into the blog quickly they won’t wait around.

7. Had enough of the writing? Let someone else take this job off your plate so you can do what you love best. Hire someone else to do it. I call them the “ghostblogger.” Whatever they call themselves, they should be a professional, published writer.

A personal connection with words

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old dictionary seriesWords, put together to create a phrase. It may resonate with you, but might not be the same for others. But, for you, it is that “Ah Ha!” moment. “That’s how I feel, or should feel,” or, “Now I understand.”

I am not a religious person. I balked when my parents wanted me to go to attend religious services with them. Now I go on my own and not because someone forces me, but because I am drawn there from time-to-time. Perhaps I’m seeking an answer for my mother’s death, which I still can’t come to terms with.

I am still not sold on the validity of a higher power, but do believe something out there guides us. It’s our choice whether or not to follow. And where else are you supposed to turn to try to find answers to questions that no one has the answer to but inside a sanctuary of peace?

So yesterday, as I sat through a service, I read a passage that resonated with me. I was so drawn to it, that I wrote it down.

It doesn’t matter what religion it was applied to, or where the words came from. It isn’t anything new. It’s a universal idea that’s been discussed and written about many times before. It’s about dealing with forgiveness to those who wrong us. It’s about focusing on the positive rather than dwelling on that one negative instance. And it was the wording that made sense to me.

This spoke in a concrete way to me. It said that I should not let rage overpower me when I have been wronged. To some it could be a longer form of “what goes around comes around,” but not written in a cliché way.

“…give us the grace to show forbearance to those who offend against us. When the wrongs and injustices of others wound us, may our hearts not despair of human good. May no trial, however severe, embitter our souls and destroy trust. When beset by trouble and sorrow, our mothers and fathers put on the armor of faith and fortitude. May we too find strength to meet adversity with quiet  courage and unshaken will. Help us to understand that injustice and hate…; that righteousness and mercy may triumph in the end.”

I hope that everyone finds the words that they connect with and that give them strength, solace and enjoyment. Long live a well-wielded phrase.

Let rejection fuel you

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I feel happy, elated…and sick. I’ve been a freelance writer for 14 years but that pit at the bottom of your stomach never goes away.

Today I sent out that manuscript languishing on my hard drive. The book was commissioned by a publisher and I wrote it, in its entirety, submitted the first draft, got paid for that part of the submission, and the company went belly up. And so this book, that took me hours and hours and months to research to write and rewrite, is being sent out again in the hope that it will actually find a home.

But then there’s the dreaded rejection. Even if you’re a seasoned journalist with accolades, rejection happens. After a while you get used to it…oh heck, you never get used to it. But you have to believe in the story because if it gets rejected, that rejection needs to be the fuel that propels you to send it out to someone else until you get that coveted acceptance letter.

So I have taken that leap of faith. I picked up the phone and called a publisher and now I’ve sent a sample of the book for them to read and I must wait and pretend that I’m not really waiting for anything, that everything is fine.

But, truth be told, if the rejection comes I will feel that devastation. That’s what makes writers comrades in arms. We’ve all been there, and continue to be there. As I said, it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned journalist. Rejection happens. The trick is to turn that rejection into fuel that pushes you to send it out again, and again and again until it’s accepted.

I just hope this is accepted the first time, or is it the second time, whatever, this time.

Let your voice be heard

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The outcome of the federal government’s summer-long consultations on reforms to the Copyright Act will have an impact on everyone, including creators. Please take time to let your voice be heard. Below is my submission. Please go to: (www.copyrightconsultation.ca) and let your voice be heard.

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My name is Suzanne Boles. I am a writer and have been freelancing since 1996. I have had hundreds of articles published in magazines and online, work for businesses and individuals offering writing-related services, mentor new writers and teach freelance writing courses to individuals who want to make an income from freelance writing. I am a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and sat on the National Board for six years, including the position of President.

I make my living writing and, since the day I started freelancing, I have watched the industry erode as lines become more blurred in terms of copyright laws related to additional rights and first rights.

I agree that laws need to be amended to meet the new era and implementation of technology, but I implore you to consider ways that are fair to all parties and that does not remove, or have the potential to remove, income from individual creators.

We are entrepreneurs and independent citizens making a living from our work. Yet, studies have shown that freelance writers make, on average, less than $20,000 per annum. This is below poverty line income. Yet, we are still able to purchase goods and services and do what we can so that we are not asking for government handouts to survive. However, if you change Canadian Copyright Law in a way that further removes our additional or initial rights, you remove or further decrease our income. When that happens we are no longer in a position to stimulate the economy, and many of us will we will be living off government programs to feed our families.

When considering any and all changes to the Canadian Copyright Act, I urge you to look at the recommendations of the Creator’s Copyright Coalition to:

-Recognize the central role of authors and performers in innovation and in the artistic and cultural progress of a society;

-Reaffirm that the principal objective of the Copyright Act is the protection of the moral and economic rights of authors and performers;

-Reaffirm their right to just remuneration for the use of their work;

-Reaffirm that the introduction of new technologies should not threaten the fundamentals of copyright, in particular, activity relating to fair dealing provisions;

-Resist the expropriation of rights through the use of exemptions granted users; and,

-Avoid placing the entire burden of defending these rights on authors and performers, who should not have to go to court or install costly  technological protection measures.

These are well thought out requests that will impact a large portion of the Canadian population today, and for decades to come.

Thank you,

Suzanne Boles

To Tweet or not to Tweet…

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I still haven’t figured out Twitter yet. I mean, what’s the point? As a writer I guess it could be a good place to post those random thoughts I have, rather than keeping a piece of paper and pen with me at all times when a story idea comes along. But, also as a writer, the keystroke limit is killing me. I want to tell the full story but that won’t happen in 140 keystrokes. And, really, are my random thoughts that interesting that someone would care? So I think, well, let’s give it a shot. And I post:

“After all these years of not cooking because it takes too long, I finally figure out it all boils down to sharp knives.”

Does anyone understand what that means? There’s a story here. Does anyone care what that story is? I mean, really, I have a university education, run my own business, can balance my own books. How come I just figured out that you don’t have to jab and stab in order to slice and dice?

But I can’t write the story  in 140 keystrokes so, in retrospect, should I have posted that?  Does it make me look stupid? Do people actually care? But wait,  since I posted it three people are now following me. Can they tell me why they found my post interesting (in 140 keystrokes or less)?

So if that post brought followers…well, I should be getting to the work on my desk…but maybe I’ll just post another random thought:

“Show me the money: I am overwhelmed by social networking tools. Should I be hanging out on Twitter or making a living & write that article?”

Notice I use the ampersand (&) because I’m close to my 140 keystroke limit. And why am I posting this question when I have paying work to do? And, again, does anyone care what I’m thinking? Apparently they do because two more people just started following me on Twitter.

But I still don’t get it. How can I keep up with all these Tweets and still work enough hours to make a living? And what do these strange things like Tiny URLs and @’s mean anyway?

Oops. Hold that thought. I’m getting dinged by my Blackberry with text messages. So “i’m riting 2 some 1 this wa” because there are text message keystroke limits.

There goes my years of refining my words, spell checking, learning rules  of grammar “becuz i don’t hav enuf room 2 rite what i need 2.”

Do as I say not as they do?

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I was watching America’s Best Crew competition on MTV http://www.mtv.com/ontv/dyn/dance_crew/series.jhtml today, while I was working out. It got me thinking about the assignments some of my students handed in this week; university students – second year and up. Some were raunchy, sexually charged and angry. There was ranting and language I didn’t feel was acceptable in terms of journalistic writing.

I don’t consider myself a prude. I know how to swear. And sometimes strong language is warranted in our writing. But if I wrote an article on how women are exploited by the media, for example, I would write an article using credible sources and interviews that would give a balanced viewpoint or, ultimately, come out on one side or the other. As freelance journalists/writers that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?

But watching those dance crews I was mesmerized by their amazing moves. Yes, I did find it offensive when the women thrust their boobs and bottoms out towards the audience in a sexually provocative manner. I’m not keen on dancing that includes men or women grasping between their legs and thrusting forward. And, apparently, it’s quite acceptable to do that, according to TV, the Internet music video producers and so on.

So if I ask my students to prepare a writing assignment, am I wrong to tell them that the outcome isn’t acceptable if they follow the requirements of the assignment? If they write an article that I feel uncomfortable with, does that make it wrong?

So, back to the assignment. The students chose a magazine, of their choice (I didn’t tell them what magazines they could or couldn’t use). Rants were not warranted and sex did not need to play a key role. No one picked Playboy, but as I learned through an Internet search, Cosmo magazine has come a long way baby. This is not considered a pornographic site http://www.cosmopolitan.com/ but be prepared to be educated about the best way to turn your guy or gal on, find the of ‘best positions’ for sex and more details. The pictures don’t tell the story, but the words certainly tell us what to do.

So is it fair to tell students to “Do as I say and not as they [the media] do?”

It’s not all about writing…but sometimes it is

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I have no water cooler in my office. My office companions are two cats. My work keeps me busy, but the lack of people contact can make one workday seem like any other day. Weekends meld into weekdays. I can’t always differentiate between the two because my office is in the same location where I live with my family. I am just a few feet from our bedroom and a few more steps away from the nearest coffee pot.

This isn’t a complaint; it’s a reality check. When people ask me what I do and I say “I’m a writer,” their eyes light up. I can see inside their heads. They have visions of grandeur. I sit in my large office surrounded by books (true, my bookshelves are crammed) and photos of famous authors (reality: only on the back covers of the books, sometimes). All you can hear is the continuous sound of my fingers tapping on my keyboard as I create and manoeuvre characters into scenes and scenarios to inspire any reader. But that’s not what I do.

It would be great if writing was all about fame and big bucks. But, as Betty Jane Wylie says in her book The Write Track: How to succeed as a freelance writer in Canada, “writing is work” (a small part of a longer quote that I read to students I teach about the reality of freelance writing).

Writing is hard work. And once you hang out your shingle as a Freelance Writer the learning doesn’t stop because writing is all about constant learning. However just because writing is work doesn’t mean that it’s drudgery. I love what I do…well, most of the time; there are always some aspects of any job that are more interesting than others. Still, I have a flexible schedule. I have a variety of interesting clients and have learned a lot about topics I never thought I’d write about when I won an award for a poem in high school.

There is money to be made when you can write succinctly and engage your reader. Not everyone has that talent. As Wylie says, “I haven’t met a writer who hasn’t at one time or another felt the words flow from somewhere other than the brain right onto the paper. That can only be called a blessing.” So, yes, I’m blessed. But I’m human too.

I don’t always like the topics I’m writing about. If I could write about anything I wanted and got paid for it, that would be my first choice. If I felt that novel percolating, I would set aside time each day to bring it to life. But that’s not who I am, and that’s not what I write about.

So what kind of writer am I? You tell me. Check out some of the things I’ve written posted on my website: http://suzanneboles.com/writing-samples. You might be surprised. Who knew writing about topics that seemed mundane could be turned into interesting stories? And, better yet, you can get paid for doing this.

Back to my next assignment…