Start by Typing Facts

One of the biggest challenges this week was writing a 650-word article based on a 11,000-word interview transcript, and with a quick turnaround.

I didn’t know how to begin so I just started typing facts. Then I walked away, and when I came back, I tried to see how some of the facts could fit together. Then I moved on to something else and when I came back, I tried to see if I could make things flow more smoothly – so that the order made sense and was logical, as if that’d been the way I meant to write it the whole time.

Everything in the interview was interesting – so it wasn’t a matter of picking what was interesting and what wasn’t – but more “what is needed” and “what can be included.” The other part of that was resisting going in a direction I didn’t have space to address. There was one whole section, for example, that was a story on its own. I realized if I tried to touch on that topic with a sentence, it was going to take a whole paragraph or more of context for that sentence to make sense – which was going to throw off the balance. So I resisted.

To me, creativity is about problem solving, about working through puzzles – just figuring it out. You ask, “How’s this going to work?” You find a way to get started, let it rest, make it better, let it rest, and keep at it till you get it done.

Launch Day!

I like the symmetry of certain dates. My Aunt Minnie passed away on October 5, 1995. She was 88 and had been ill. She was not a casualty of Hurricane Opal, but that fierce storm was coming through Central Alabama at that same time.

Also around that time, I was beginning the story that would become Life with Strings Attached. It would take nine years to go from those first few sentences to publication—if you’re counting between hurricanes. Because during that last bit of proofreading for the novel, when I needed to ship the manuscript back to the publisher, Hurricane Ivan was headed to town. Which meant I was the only one out looking for Liquid Paper as part of my storm provisions.

Fast forward another fifteen years or so. I was envisioning a new project that was a bunch of pieces that needed a connecting thread. Those pieces ultimately became Miss Bertie. As I understand, Aunt Minnie had been a second grade teacher at an FSU lab school for their education department. She was not the actual model for Miss Bertie, but she did influence the development of her back story, and she was something of a muse when I asked myself, “What would it be like to talk to her today?”

Also, just FYI, it felt right to add a cat to the previous story—I did, and I named her Opal.

So today I am pleased to introduce you to a friend of Miss Bertie’s—George Stringfellow. His story is live now in ebook form, or you can order a paperback version.

Doing the Work You’ve Chosen

I was fortunate in my career in that I always knew what I wanted to do—I wanted to write. That was my calling and my skillset. How I wanted to follow that call and how I could apply this skillset toward a successful career were other matters entirely.

The first thing I wanted to do, job wise, was to become an advertising copywriter, and I was very excited when I landed my first professional job at an advertising agency. In that role, I wrote clever pieces with lots of turns of phrases for newspaper and magazine ads, billboards, brochures, radio spots, and tv spots. I enjoyed the creative environment I was in.

My second job was serving as a public information officer for a state government agency, which had a large staff led by an executive director who reported to a commission made up of political appointees. Part of the work was writing press releases, speech drafts, annual reports, meeting recaps and the like. This was very dry stuff, and I often felt misplaced even though the regular salary was nice.

My third job was a transition. I worked part-time at a college, my alma mater, handling public relations projects while I tried to figure out how to start a writing business. I wanted to apply skills and do work I enjoyed, but I thought it would be safer to have part of the work locked in.

Actually, there was too much work to do for my part-time role, so I had to make a decision. I picked the vague vision I had for my future, and I stepped out on my own as a full-time freelance writer. 

I’ve always had a little trouble with my elevator pitch—how I explain what I do. Over time, the term copywriter seemed to apply less and less to how I was actually serving others. It turns out, I don’t write ads very often. I don’t often write radio spots and TV commercials or billboards on any typical day. I usually write content—in whatever form needed. And I proofread or edit someone else’s content.

This kind of writing focuses on a business interest, a marketing program, a communication objective. There’s always a purpose for my pieces—and usually a desired result. And it’s never negative, unless I’m writing for someone who’s against something.

I love this kind of work. Because it’s a good fit for me. Plus, there are people under pressure to get their writing projects done, and helping them do so is my superpower.  

Here are some things I’ve learned:  

First, It starts with skill sets. I knew what I could bring to the table.

Two, I knew, generally, the kind of people I would serve—people in the advertising, public relations, marketing, and communications fields.

Three, I had a network of contacts within these fields that I operated within.

Four, I needed a structure for my day—a way to organize my work habits.

Five, I needed the tools to get the work done. Which has basically been a laptop and various software and peripherals as needed.

And, six, I needed the realization that this is the work I have chosen. I’m pretty sure I would have given up long ago—in light of all the highs and lows of entrepreneurial life—if I had not loved what I’ve chosen.

So how about you? What do you want to do? What are some ways you can execute this idea? And what is it that you love to do so much that you will keep going?

Writing about the Community

It’s possible to build a full-time freelance writing career serving people in your own community. In my work as a local writer, I’ve been able to network within a professional community of public relations practitioners and other communicators who need regular marketing content. As a result, the work-for-hire projects I’ve gotten as a writer have largely come from people I know or people who know people I know. For example, among the projects I juggle for various marketing clients, I recently talked with local leaders to write these pieces for the Montgomery Business Journal:

Montgomery Public Schools – Facing Learning Loss Head-On – PublicLayout-blog – Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce – AL, AL (

#MyMGM: MGM’s Citizen Airmen – PublicLayout-blog – Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce – AL, AL (

GiveBack: The Y’s Impact Is Deep & Wide – PublicLayout-blog – Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce – AL, AL (

The Whole World is a Small Town

I had a chance to visit with Amy Stackhouse, host of Stacked Keys Podcast, to discuss writing … and a lot more. She came up with the episode title — “The Whole World Is a Small Town” — from one of my answers to her questions. I really do believe that’s true. You just have to find your town! Take a listen at this link:

A Visit on the Front Porch

It was so much fun to talk with Kenny Dean and Terry Mitchell during my visit to The Front Porch, a local TV program based in my hometown of Alexander City, Alabama. I was fortunate to be scheduled as the last guest for an early morning program. You can find me 1 1/2 hours into the video from the live stream: