by Madeline Sharples, Author of Leaving the Hall Light On & WOW! Blog Tour Guest
I worked as a writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business for a total of twenty-eight years. I had a reputation for being a good writer so I got some of the plum jobs – working on newsletters, websites, award applications, and even ghostwriting letters for top managers, but the writing style for any of those tasks was nothing near creative.
However, I learned a lot about writing and revision while working on deadline-oriented, and super stressful proposals. We wrote a little, we edited, we reviewed, and then we revised. And we’d repeat that sequence many times throughout a typical three-month proposal effort. I also taught proposal teams how to write their text, emphasizing the importance of keeping their fingers moving until the writing is finished, then stepping away from their prose for a bit before editing it. I think that advice works for all kinds of writers. If you don’t have another person’s eyes to look at it and edit it for you, leave it be for a while, make yourself a hard copy, take out a red pen, and move to another location in your house. It will be like having a fresh pair of eyes looking at your work.
All that is practical advice. But the actual difference in writing to address technical requirements and writing a creative story or poem or essay is harder to address.
I think the main requirement – at least for me – is that I wanted to make the transition. I had wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I studied journalism in high school and wrote feature articles for the high school newspaper. Then I took all the course work toward a degree in journalism in college though I ended up with a degree in English because I transferred schools just before my senior year (that’s a story all its own). So, when I got out of college I wanted in the worst way to write for a magazine or newspaper. After a few attempts I turned to the aerospace industry. I got a positive response after one call and asked, “Do you ever hire people with a degree in English?” Easy, right? But hard on my dream to become a “real” writer.
And though I never gave up on that dream, for the next several decades I took creative detours. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and gardened. And, I co-authored a non-fiction book, Blue Collar Women: – a little less technical than my work in aerospace. Anything to keep my hand in creativity, until finally I could stand it no longer.
I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, California in the late 1990s. It was there that I wrote about my misgivings about ever being able to make the transition. Here’s what I wrote: “My writing is so factual, so plain, so devoid of descriptors, feelings, and imagination.” Later I learned that was okay. Once I discovered a private instructor in Los Angeles who taught me to “write like you talk,” I knew I was on my way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Although Madeline Sharples worked most of her professional life as a technical writer and editor, grant writer, and proposal manager, she fell in love with poetry and creative writing in grade school. She pursued her writing interests to high school while studying journalism and writing for the high school newspaper, and she studied journalism in college. However, she only began to fulfill her dream to be a professional writer late in her life.
She co-authored a book about women in nontraditional professions called Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (August 2010). She wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). She is pleased that many of her poems have appeared online and in print magazines in the last few years.
Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, about how she and her family survived her older son’s suicide, as a result of his bipolar disorder, will be released by Lucky Press LLC on Mother’s Day 2011. She and her husband of 40 years live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles. Her younger son Ben lives in Santa Monica, California with his bride Marissa.
Sharples’ blog is titled “Choices” and she also has a blog at Red Room.
See the flier for Leaving the Hall Light On
Read 2 sample chapters from Leaving the Hall Light On
Buy Leaving the Hall Light On
Available on Amazon.com
Available at Barnes and Noble
READ A RECENT INTERVIEW WITH MADELINE SHARPLES.
Visit Madeline Sharples’ blog, CHOICES.
Have a question for Madeline? Leave it in the comments section and she’ll post her reply!
I struggle to move from ‘technical’ writing (academia, training manuals, assessments, reports, proposals, etc.) My creative writing voice is so deeply stifled that whenever I have stretches of not writing, I’ve gone retro – right back to the stiff/tell only beginning. Grrrrrr. I am interested in a private instructor who can coach me to write the way I speak. I’m frustrated with my slippy progress and desparately want to get ‘…on my way’. Can this be accomplished online? Should I look for a face-to-face writing coach in my own backyard. What are your thoughts, Madeline. Thanks. Cheryl
First of all I’m sorry about the loss of your son, I can’t comprehend such heartache. Your book sounds wonderful. I will look for it.
I began to get serious about writing and then blogging after losing my mother to breast cancer and then being diagnosed myself. Through my blog, I feel I am doing a pretty good job of “writing like i talk.” I am also working on a book, so i feel the blog helps in many ways. A visit to my blog from you would be awesome!
Do you have any advice for getting published? Do you think it is better to self-publish these days?
Thank you so much and all my best.
Thanks so much. I’m sorry about the loss of your mother. My father died of cancer and I know how terrible that experience is.
I’m glad you found writing as a way of healing. Writing has been so important to me during my son’s bipolar illness and after his suicide. My journaling (before the days of blogging) turned into my book.
I really can’t advise about self-publishing vs traditional publishing. I found an independent traditional publisher through the query process, and it’s worked out perfectly for me. But times are changing. Self publishing seems to be the way to go for lots of folks these days.
What is your blog address? I’d love to visit. Please visit mine as well.
Thanks so much for visiting my blog and liking it too! I really appreciate it. I will visit yours soon. Thanks for taking time to respond to my questions. My blog address is http://www.nancyspoint.com but I guess you know that!
Hi, Cheryl, You seem to be where I was several years ago. My best advice to you is to keep working at it. Take lots of workshops and classes and write, write, write. I journaled everyday. I recently took an online novel class and I wasn’t very satisfied with it. Although I got a lot of writing accomplished I felt the interactions with the instructor and the other people in the class were very unfulfilling – comments were short with little detail and direction. Personally, I like to be face-to-face in a warm classroom or workshop setting. If you are in the Los Angeles area, Jack Grapes is the best.. If not, I recommend you find someone in your own backyard. Good luck. Madeline
Thank you Madeline! I wish I was in your back yard and I’d go for Jack! My backyard is Toronto, Ontario, Canada where there are more opportunities than recommendations for individual writing coaches. I’ll continue to ask around and check things out. AND … I haven’t been in a traditional classroom setting in a couple of years. Here’s to finding both a writing coach and novel writing workshop or program. I will resist the urge to go back and edit/re-write every post on my blog!
On another point, losing a child (in my case grandchild) is something you never truly get over – you learn to live with this particularly painful type of loss best you can. It isn’t just the death that a parent or grandparent grieves, it’s the loss of all the dreams – everything they could have experienced, could have become, could have shared with you. Be kind to yourself.
Thank you, Cherl. I know so well about that loss of a dream. My son was an incredible musician and though he left us recordings of his music, they can never make up for what might have been.
I do try to take care of myself. I’m almost obsessive about working out. But, that has been part of my healing process as well as my writing.
Yes, we never get over it. We just learn to live with the “new” normal.
Take care of yourself as well. Madeline
“I never gave up on that dream”–that’s it, that’s the KEY.
The gift is many of us always seemed to know that we were a “real” something–a writer, dancer, performer, artist or…. And then we convince ourselves along the way that our dream isn’t entirely possible and we settle for something else.
As a Life Coach I help people get reconnected to their passion, purpose and power; I use expressive writing as way to reconnect.. When many of my clients enter into the frustration and sadness at the loss of our original dream, they begin to shift that all our nothing thinking and notice the unique qualities of their ‘old’ dream. I teach people to use adjectives to describe those qualities in the most detail possible, then seek to live out the qualities themselves.
Congrats Madeline on living into your rich qualities around creativity, feelings and imagination.
Thanks, Barbara, for what you are doing. You are so right – never give up on that dream. I think it was my persistence that drove me. And I’m so glad it worked.
I’m so sorry about your son. Others will gain knowledge from your book, I’m sure. I love the term “creative detours.” It resonates this morning.
B. Lynn Goodwin
Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers
Thank you Lynn. I love the title of your book. All best, Madeline