Tag Archives: teaching

How to Not Hate Writing an “About Me” Page…

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There is something that has been on my list for a month, and every time it finds its way to the top, it gets somehow pushed back into the mix. Okay…fine. I somehow bury it. Maybe you can relate. It’s the About Me section for my new website, and my Author Bio for my novel coming out next year—basically the same thing: capturing the essence of who I am and what I have done that might be of value to people. And let me tell you: It’s excruciating. I feel like I’m being dragged by my hair into a final exam that will determine whether or not I graduate from college for a class I didn’t take. And it’s like…Abstract Algebra, or Calculus V. Something I did not take in college.

I’ve been in full avoidance of this like I’ve never quite seen in myself. Case in point: I’m writing this instead of writing it. I mean, what do people want to know about me? That I’ve written over twenty books, and a bunch of them are even good? And that I plan to publish those books one day. That I turned down the Oprah Winfrey show not once but twice, and it was one of my dreams in life to go on that show and be in the presence of that goddess. It’s a long story– a story too long for an About Me page. But geez—that’s something I’d want to read about if I followed a writer with that story. Or maybe people want to know that I’ve been highly identified with the word vulnerability and also the word empathy since I was in high school. I used to say, “I don’t want to be friends with you unless you are willing to be vulnerable.” That made me really popular. It was before vulnerability was in. (Thanks, Brene Brown—who definitely has gone on the Oprah show!) What else? That Empty Nest has been hard for me blah blah blah. My kids are doing great. I have a roof over my head, and a lovely one at that, though there is a leak in the garage that I need to get fixed. Riveting content. Are you fascinated yet? And while we’re on the subject, why should you even care about me in the first place? Bleck.

The truth is, I just wasn’t raised to talk about my accolades, and chances are…you weren’t either. I was raised in the seen-but-not-heard, speak-when-spoken-to, don’t-show-off camp. I think that’s why I became a writer. I could put it all down on a page where it would safely live. I still have every single journal I’ve ever written in, probably as some sort of a constant witness of a life well-lived, deeply felt, wonderfully (and yes woefully) wondered. It’s no mistake then, that I’ve made a career out of creating a safe place for people to do the same. I mean, just those three words: Haven Writing Retreat could be the long and short of my About Me. With the words “I seek” before each one.

Just what is it that belongs in an About Me section or a Bio that doesn’t make its author feel like she or he needs to take a shower after writing it, much less putting it out there for people to love or hate, or scrutinize, or slice and dice? Or ignore?

I was sitting on my front porch yesterday with a marketing whiz and a recent alum of one of my Haven programs, here for a Writer-in-Residence. I consider both of them friends and am mesmerized by their elegant minds. So I mentioned my current “plight.” They both groaned. Turns out, I’m not alone. With ricochet-speed, we ping-ponged our identical feelings from Adirondack chair to Adirondack chair. How difficult it is to find the right distillation of words to depict our essential selves. How hard it is to give ourselves permission to “toot our own horn.” For other people? “No problem,” we agreed. “I can see your brilliance so clearly. I know just the words I’d choose for your About Me page or your Bio.” But for ours? Torture.

As I watched their minds think-tanking through those trenches, this is what I gleaned: to write anything that authentically depicts yourself…in these days of glossy brands and what my literary hero Jim Harrison called “the cult of the personality,” you need to use heart language. Your truth. And that in and of itself, can be a tall order. No one majors in Truth in college, though it’s at the base of absolutely everything in the end. But we learn that later on if we learn it at all. Growing up, we all-too-often learn instead how to jump through hoops and grab onto brass rings to get our A+. I feel like I have devoted my life to helping people find their truth by using the power of the written word. I can teach it just fine. So why is it so hard to write these freaking About Me and Bio pages? I can write a memoir or personal essay no problem. Probably because there’s a narrative to unravel. Stories are my comfort zone. Resumes…are not.

Tick tock. Deadline is getting closer and closer and I am still so far away. Maybe I’ll re-arrange my junk drawer after I finish this…

My Attempt at a Solution:

How about we look at it a little differently? How about we make a new sort of list of criteria for what belongs in an About Me or Bio? (And I like writing lists and bullet-points about as much as I do an About Me or Bio, so even this is gonna be difficult. But I’m going to give it a whirl for you and for me. It’s time to have a little conversation with myself.)

  • Let’s start with this idea of giving ourselves permission. Sometimes that works for me. I give myself permission to buy that special and not-cheap bottle of Domaine Tempier rose`, for instance. Not a gimme. But do-able. I give myself permission to adopt two sweet adorable unconditionally-loving English Cream golden retrievers. Done done done. I give myself permission to sip on a glass of Domaine Tempier rose` on my front porch with two goldens at my feet, watching the rain on the lily of the valleys and lilacs. There are certain permission slips that are easier than others. But I give myself permission to write about my accolades and what makes me me? Uhhhh.
  • Let’s look at it like this instead: You don’t have to give yourself permission to share your essence. If you are writing an About Me or a Bio, you already have given yourself permission to be exactly who you are. You can skip that step.
  • Perhaps the next step is to accept who you are already being.
  • As for finding the words…choose what is obvious about you that might not be obvious to other people because they haven’t wandered around in your shoes. They can’t know what you know. All you have to do is let them in. Think of it as an invitation.
  • And it doesn’t have to be everything about you. Just a handful of things that you want people to know that might help them get the hang of how you show up in the world.
  • And why not have it be easy?
  • Easy? F*** me! This is one of the hardest things I can imagine writing. I’d rather write four novels than this stupid About Me and Bio. Deep breath. I don’t mean that it has to be easy easy. I mean that there can be ease to it. Flow. In other words…try not to be anyone on that page that is anyone other than you.
  • In fact, stop trying. Just write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. You have lived a remarkable life. You have. Stop saying that you haven’t, or that someone else’s life is more remarkable so why should I even have an About Me page in the first place. I mean…I’m not Oprah. Or Brene. But I sure would like to have lunch with them. You are who you are. What is something that you can tell me about yourself that might inspire me to feel like I want to have lunch with you!
  • Relax. This isn’t finals week. You don’t have to do any research. You’ve already lived whatever there is to include on these pages. And you probably haven’t won a Pulitzer. Yet. That’s okay. Chances are, neither has anyone else who is reading your About Me page.
  • Just lay it all out there like a deck of cards and pick the ones that are calling to you. Maybe it’s something that wouldn’t have gotten you an A+ but maybe it’s the old moth-eaten sweater that you always go to over the new one you got for your birthday.
  • Pick the ones that feel comfortable. If you feel comfortable in your words, your reader will too. (And that goes for all of your writing. I’m not saying: avoid conflict. I’m saying: go into the heart of conflict. You really like that sweater even though it doesn’t smell so great! But now we’re on a 5 day retreat. Let’s get back to front porch wisdom.)
  • But I’m 52 years old. I’ve done a lot of stuff, and a lot of what I consider to be my great successes were very hard won. Should I include all of it? I feel like I’m being remiss if I leave out any of it! I mean…I did end up going on ‘Good Morning America’ and being interviewed by a former press secretary! My ego kinda wants that one in there. But heck—I don’t know. I’m more proud of those unpublished books. Can I mention them???
  • Think bridges. Ask yourself: What might bridge my life experience to my reader?
  • What is something that you have lived which might help others to know that they’re not alone? (That was the #1 thing that I heard over and over after my memoir came out. “Thank you for helping me know I’m not alone.”)
  • Let yourself shine in the way that only you can. And it doesn’t have to be Fourth of July bedazzling fireworks. It can be a small, abiding flame. My grandmother used to sing me a bedtime song with these words in it: “In this world of darkness we must shine. You in your small corner, and I in mine.” Beauty is in the small things as much as it is in the grandiose.
  • No one has your story. No one. Even if you share the same accolade, no one has quite shown up like you have. Own it.
  • You can list your accolade, but perhaps you want to include a few words along with it that show us something about the experience. (ie: Had the stomach flu on my 1st book’s pub day, in a mid-town Manhattan hotel—a writer’s ego never gets to explode.)
  • But be careful: (and this one is so important, especially for women): You do not have to be self-deprecating to justify your accolades! You worked hard for them. Again, own it. (Yeah you had the stomach flu, but the book landed on the freaking ‘New York Times’ best-seller list!)
  • In the interest of time, I’m going to stop here. But a word for us all from my front porch: Be kind to yourself, please. You are a miraculous creature no matter what you put on those pages. You have done your work and you have done it well. Settle into kindness and care and respect for yourself, and you will find the true words. They’re in you, I promise.

P.S. Can I just use the following as my About Me and Bio

Laura Munson lives in an empty-nested farmhouse in Montana with two recently adopted dogs so it’s suddenly full again and she’s happy about that. And she writes a lot and brings people together to write a lot too. And those people are really happy when they’re here. And she loves her work as a mother (even though it’s not daily anymore), and a teacher (surprise chapter!), and a writer (her life’s love, outside of motherhood). Unless she has to write an About Me or Bio. So there. Please read my stuff. I write it to help us know that we’re not alone. Myself included. Here’s the bridge. Meet me half way. K?

Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019!

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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Teacher Appreciation– Three of my All-Stars

Teachers: giving us gifts we'd likely miss on our own

Teachers: giving us gifts we’d likely miss on our own

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve picked a few of my major influencers and asked them to fill out the below Q&A.  Here are their responses.  I encourage you to reach out to your teachers and ask them to share their wisdom. They’re swamped this time of year, so this Q&A is a good way to tease out their pearls without giving them “homework.”  And I encourage you to share their answers with your peeps.  Let’s shine a collective light on those who have been the wind at our backs!  THANK YOU, TEACHERS

Now Booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!  Do you have a teacher you would like to sponsor, or ARE you a teacher who needs to fill up YOUR cup?  Haven has worked with many educators, and I have seen it be the very thing that has them return to their students with renewed spirit, conviction, and useful tools of inspiration.

June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 18-22

#1 Nan Caldwell

Nan Caldwell (Lake Forest Country Day School, Spanish Teacher and much much more) was a huge part of the formation of  my spirit and mind.  She showed me, by her sparkling example, how I could be myself in the world, without compromising my heart.  She was the reason I spent a year in Italy, my junior year in college, which I have written about in my memoir and elsewhere, and will be talking about on my deathbed.  And she also taught me a love for languages, and took me to Spain and Portugal with our 9th grade Spanish class, which primed the pump for a lifetime of devoted travel and open-minded/hearted-ness.  Thank you, Nan! You know how much I adore you and always will.  And you know how many many young minds and spirits you have help formed. Here are her pearls of wisdom:

Q&A for Teachers.  (all questions optional but encouraged)

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she/he has one?  You are ready to sacrifice a higher paying career for one that truly may make a difference in the world.

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)  It must be DNA.  I have two uncles and three aunts who are teachers.  My father followed a business career, but I’m a throwback!  I always wanted to be a teacher- even when I was little.

What got you out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)  Duty!

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, esp if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)  I think that in today’s world it is important to help students stay grounded and focused on values. Faced with ubiquitous social media sway, it is easy for them to fall prey to materialistic and/or cruel outlooks that influence their behavior. Honesty, kindness, and generosity never go out of style, but it takes some targeted work to maintain that perspective.

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)  One time, I had the students draw monsters that they later had to describe in Spanish for their classmates.  One little boy drew something that looked like a monster octopus.  In his description, he said that it had tentacles coming out of his head and tentacles coming out of his body and six tentacles for legs….except he had the word for testicles!  Heh!  The kids had no idea!

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)  Let your children make mistakes.  Don’t get involved in social problems.  Offer your child some advice, but step back.  Remind them always to be kind and inclusive, no matter what.

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck–  3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)  Food.  It works. They love games, too.  And stories!!

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life…)  Up at 6:00, at work by 7:15.  Teaching, hall duty, study hall, recess duty, lunch duty, coaching after school, clubs, service projects, 400 emails to answer….home around 6:00.  Make dinner, eat, grade papers until around 10:00. Watch the news so that you are prepared to be a teacher the next day!

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling?   Private schools are as varied as public schools- some excellent, some not much better than a good public school.  The good ones can provide extra personal attention to the individual needs of each child.  That attention and care can usher a student to more fully explore and achieve his/her potential.
College is the right place for academically minded and socially concerned students.  I do not think that every student should feel that college is the only route to a successful career- especially if he/she is passionate about a specific field- gaming, coding, arts, trades, etc.

What is a moment in your teaching career that makes you especially proud?  (BOAST, PLEASE!  You deserve it!  Or…full disclosure.  ie: The day I nailed Suzy in the face with an eraser for picking on Matilda.)  Occasionally a former student sits down and writes a thank you letter.  Getting one of those makes every day worthwhile!

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)  Set realistic goals.  Don’t overreach and try to be super-teacher.  Take one challenge at  a time and strive for patience and good humor.

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)  All of society’s challenges and solutions begin with families and schools. Plain and simple.  Start there.   

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?  As a teacher of world languages, I hope to open a door through which my students can more authentically explore the history and cultures of other peoples, global issues, and our responsibilities as Americans.  We become not only better guests in other countries, but better citizens of our own.  The path of this knowledge can lead to professional and personal opportunities that are not as readily available to monolinguistic people- opportunities that may begin with friendships, jobs and travel, but ones that also have the potential to telescope toward international relations, human rights and peace.

Will books ever die? I hope not!!!  Please don’t let them!

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

#2 Janet Edmonds

Ms. Ed (Janet) was my boarding school English teacher (Westminster School) and I think she taught me something about Hawthorne, (“yea verily” comes to mind), though what I remember most was her love of words.  She had that English teacher wonderlust for books, liked she’d torn herself away from one to get to class, and was eager to feed us with its (and her) knowledge.  Somehow she waded through the classics with us and took us along with her.  She didn’t stand on any desks and speak in Latin…but she did hold us in the elegance of words through the ages, and often when I’m sitting alone with a book, trying to understand just what the author is trying to say, or writing one and doing the same with my own muse,  I think of her quiet countenance and take heart.  Thank you, Ms. Ed!  Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  Love, Laura

Questions and Answers for Teachers.  

What is your definition of the “Teaching Spirit,” and how does a person know if she or he has one?

They bend and hold us so we can see the light.

They bend and hold us so we can see the light

My hunch is that answers to this question will be like fingerprints, like the unique patterns on whales’ flukes. I think you have a teaching spirit if you start teaching and find that you like it. Plenty of people start teaching and leave after a year or two, but some of them may have turned into excellent teachers had they stayed in the work. There are many factors that go into loving or liking teaching besides your subject and students. You have colleagues, managers (going by names such as the dean and the principal or headmaster), and the rules and values of the institution where you work. A problem in any of those areas can drown a teaching spirit. I loved my subject, students, and colleagues (your best teachers at that school, Laura, were also my best teachers), but as strict as I might have seemed at times (maybe you all saw through that), I could not stay on board with the conservative ethos that existed in many boarding schools in that era. I did not think it was fair or caring for some students. I fought it and I left.

How did you become a teacher?  (DNA, default, other?)

I wanted to be a teacher when I was in sixth grade because my English teacher assigned a couple of amazing novels and opened up the worlds in poems as if they were flowers with hundreds of petals blooming slowly under a warm sun. I just wanted to be able to do what she did—understand novels, stories, and poems. Of course I discovered that being serious and enthusiastic in a field did not mean I could “make” another person feel the same way. And when we got right down to the purpose of teaching and learning English in high school, what was more important than literature was strong, clear writing. I was 22 years old when I started teaching high school students, and even though I often miss it 30 years after leaving it to work in publishing, I know I wouldn’t have the nerve to try again. I would no longer dare to hope that I could teach someone who doesn’t write with even a tiny bit of ease or who sees no point in acquiring some fundamental skills. Maybe that’s the biggest problem—conveying to a student that there is some long term relevance to them about what you trying to teach.

What got you out of bed on the hard school mornings?  (Coffee?  Gerunds?  That one kid in the back row?)

A clock radio.

Which battles were/are worth fighting for?  (Would love to hear some trench stories, especially if you’re retired and won’t get in trouble!)

May I please have an extension? I have some good battle stories: What it felt like when the faculty met to discuss a wonderful boy’s discipline record and whether his most recent infraction merited expulsion, and I was the only one to raise a hand saying no; Why I left . . . .

What was the funniest thing that happened in your classroom?  (Feel free to rip on us.  It’s the least we can do.  Fictional names, please.)

I need an extension for this question, too. You told me you would send a few questions, but you’ve sent term paper assignments. Did you know that? For now I will only say that the funniest things that happened with you guys in and outside of the classroom do not require any “ripping” on you—just joy and gratitude for the warmth and laughter the memories bring.

If you could give one piece of advice to parents of your students, what would it be?  (Go ahead.  Offend us.  We really need to know.)

Please, please, please try to realistically understand and love your child’s strengths as a wonderful person instead of crushing him or her with totally unrealistic demands about what college you want him or her to get in to.

What were some of your “tricks” to connect with students?  (My personal favorite was:  Weekly ice cream truck– 3rd grade.  Thanks, Mrs. Dino.  7th grade Math Hump Day cake was a close second.  Thanks, Mr. Virden.)

 May I contort and distort this question in order to retort and report, Laura? My tricks were all to avoid connecting with my students. I used pop quizzes, extra laps around the field . . . .

Why do people say that teaching is one of the hardest professions?  (Paint us a portrait, if you’d like.  Day in the life….)

Again I want more time to answer, but here’s my short answer that applies to teaching in a boarding and day school: Responsibility and discipline. Teachers are responsible for the intellectual, physical, and emotional safety of many teenage human beings. It’s a huge responsibility, and there are school rules to help ensure that safety. Violating the rules can have serious consequences such as suspension and expulsion.

In your opinion, is college all that it’s cracked up to be?  Ditto an Ivy League education?  Ditto private schooling? 

I wouldn’t want those things to go away, but I’ve long thought that a person who really wants to learn is going to learn at any institution he or she goes to. It’s the student and not the school that makes the biggest difference although graduating from a school with a widely respected name can be an advantage.

The people who have taught me what I love and how to learn more about those things, who helped me discover the things that give my life meaning are people who did not go to college or end up getting a degree.

Do you believe in the liberal arts education?  If so, why?  If not, why?

Emphatically yes and no.

What can teachers do to prevent burn out?  (ahem go on a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana ahem)

 Go on a Haven Writing Retreat. (This experience is on my bucket list.)

Any advice to law makers and administrators that you feel might change our public school systems for the better?  (Here’s the soap box…)

There are things I can’t say, but I’ll start and stop with saying that principals and superintendents who are a) afraid of parents and b) unwilling to support the decisions of teachers in classrooms over complaints of whiny parents should not be principals and superintendents. If you won’t allow teachers to insist that students behave in classrooms, there will be no learning. Grrrrrrr

What is/was your dream take-away for your students?

Realize that you are “the decider” in your life. You get to say “yes, I can” and “no, I won’t.”

Will books ever die?

Maybe in a long time, there will be few paper books. In a long time.

What will you/do you miss about teaching?

You guys.

***There’ll be a pop quiz directly following this, FYI.  Sharpen your #2 pencil.  And spit out your gum.

WE LOVE YOU AND ARE SO GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT YOU DO/DID FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN!

#3 TERRY HAIGHT

Mr. Haight (Terry) was my grade school History and Social Studies teacher and maestro of a 50s a capella singing  group called Terry and the Terrifics, to which I attribute my still-love of singing in harmony and busting out of Shaboom and Goodnight Sweetheart around campfires.  He taught us by DOING, and perhaps this is why my teaching style is yes, instructional, but mostly, experiential.  Total immersion is the best way I know.  And I still know the difference between Ionic, Corinthian, and Doric columns, thanks to one of our Social Studies projects and my girlish moxie to ask ladies of the fine Lake Forest, IL mansions of my youth for house tours, the way t0 describe Raphaels’ lighting and spout off about it at the Louvre last winter, and got to the steps of the Parthenon, first chance I could. Thank you, Mr. Haight.  Lonnie ding dong, a lang a lang a lang…boom boom…wah dah…a doobie doobie day-ee, indeed!  Love and deep bows to you always!  Laura

Reply to questions from Laura Munson:

My replies are in no particular order and are not answers to specific questions. Rather I am writing thoughts encouraged by your questions.

I wanted to be a teacher for a long time. I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Kechuwa, run by Charlie Leake, for the summers of 1965 and 1967. Then I worked at the Hull House camp in East Troy, WI for the summer of 1968. My Father was a professor of History at Lehigh University, my maternal grandfather help found Lake Forest Day School, and my three sisters taught. So you could say there was a tradition of being an educator (and probably a tradition of enjoying summers in Ontario.)

Perhaps most important, I was a weak student and struggled with school. I wanted to make it fun to be in a classroom: A place where hard work was expected but also a place students wanted to come back to. So if there was a “Teaching Spirit” for me it was that I wanted kids to enjoy learning through doing. I remember there being plenty of nights when I’d find myself awake on the edge of my bed pretending to be teaching a class. Part of the “Spirit” was to begin the year by teaching, maybe even telling, and ending the year as a facilitator, as a Watcher of students learning.

To achieve some of this we introduced lots of ways of learning. We often had a “Social Studies Week,” listened to Amahl and the Night Visitors around Christmas, did a lot of group work focused on team play, map making, Word Games if there was extra time, singing, play reading, biography impersonations, and on we went.

Teaching was a joy, but it was hard. I had my students do lots of writing, but that meant hours of corrections and comments. If a student did poorly on a paper or test they could always retake it to improve. And effort really mattered. That meant lots of time to edit and support. There were long days. I remember right after I retired walking thorough the down town area around 11:00 AM. I couldn’t understand what all the adults were doing out and about. As a teacher there was no down time, and I’d feel guilty ducking out to get a haircut.

I taught at the Lake Forest Country Day School from 1972-1999. Aside from the students, the thing that kept me going was the advent of the computer in the classroom. And it was not just for adding up grades. I found the computer presented a more level learning ground for my students and me. “Oh, Mr. Haight. Why not try plugging it in?” “Mr. Haight. Let’s format it this way.”

I attended three summers worth of a great course of using the computer in the classroom put on by Summer Corps. I remember my right hand being so sore as I learned to use a mouse. Am I a supporter of Teacher Professional Development? YES. You should try something like a Writing Retreat. They say the Montana air and beauty will get your writing juices flowing.

I didn’t have any favorite students. I see many of them around town as they have moved back. I see some during the summer. And I see some in faint pictures wearing T-shirts and singing Terrific songs, a 50s a capella group I led with students for years.

I was fortunate to teach in a school that had a tradition of learning and expectations of excellence. We also had a terrific group of parents who supported their children but also the teachers. For parents I encourage you to learn about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, accept and support both, hug them all the time and love them madly.

THANK YOU TO ALL THREE OF YOU for indulging my questions, and for giving them your heart language and wisdom.  You inspire me.  Please consider reaching out to your teachers and shining a light on them!

 

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Why You Should Hire an Editor: (or why the teacher must be a student)

Teaching Haven Writing Workshop

Teaching Haven Writing Workshop

Now booking our Haven Writing Retreats Montana 2016 calendar!

June 8-12 (booking fast)
June 22-26 (booking fast)
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

One of the greatest moments of my life as a teacher and retreat leader happened this fall in my living room. It was my first Haven Writing Workshop, (the advanced Haven Retreat program), intensely focused on craft, structure, and what it takes to get a book birthed. The class (including me) was having a collective ah-hah moment, and an attendee turned to me and said, “It’s great learning from a learner.”

It knocked me off center for a moment, as if I’d done something wrong. Quickly I realized it was a grand compliment and couldn’t be more true:  As a teacher, I don’t set myself up to be the authority. I feel more like a messenger. Going to the front lines, getting information for the folks back in the village so that they can fortify the troops and secure the infrastructure.  And that’s all well and fine, unless you forget sometimes that you’re a villager too.  And villagers need each other.  Or maybe a better way of thinking of it is more migratory.  Take a flock of geese, for instance.  The leader leads until it gets tired, and then it takes its place back in the V, regaining its strength and navigational abilities.  Last year, it was time for me to be that goose.

I have a lot of books on the back burner.  Books I’ve written over the years, revised, and that in one form or another, got lost along the way.  Misfit books which I’d like to see land in people’s hearts, but just aren’t ready.  This winter, I printed out a few of them and read them as if I was a reader, not their author.  And with the perspective that distance invites, I could see big fractures that needed triage.  I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. I’d written them so long ago, I’d lost their pulse, and yet I felt that they were not totally DOA.

A friend told me to hire a free lance editor.  ”I AM a free lance editor,” I told her, “via my writing retreats.”  Until that moment, I’d never ever thought of hiring someone to help me with my work. I have always been a solo act as a writer. Didn’t get an MFA. Have never been a big fan of writing conferences, though I’ve attended a few and they were helpful. I’ve just cut my teeth on life and written every day, no matter what. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in being in community with writers, swapping stories and giving support. I believe in claiming your writing and living it with all your heart, speaking to yourself in the mirror while you’re brushing your teeth:  ”I am a writer. I am a writer.” Spit, rinse, go live it.

When I’ve written my way to the end of a project to the best of my ability, I ask a few select people to read it.  Pay attention to what they have to say.  (or not).  And then I go back to work.  This has been my process for almost three decades.  And it’s birthed a lot of material.  Some of it good.  Some of it not. But a handful of those babies want to be real live book babies, and while I’ve got current projects that I’m busy working on that I love…I’d still like those babies to breathe in this planet’s ozone.

So…when three published authors came on my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana this year and all shared that they’d hired free lance writers over the years in their pursuit of the published book…I paid attention.  ”You don’t have to be a solo act,” they assured me.  ”You can get help. You pay for therapy, or a gym membership, or a new pair of winter boots, after all.”

I got curious. I had heard of this amazing group of people in Seattle who are pretty much elves for writers. You name it:  social media, book proposal, editing, agenting, marketing/PR etc.  I quickly got in touch with Girl Friday Productions, and worked with their head editor, Christina Henry de Tessan on a project that I’d put on the back burner and wanted to re-visit. It was like the best Christmas present ever, elf-approved and delivered. Finally, I was able to see what was in that book’s way. Finally I didn’t feel so lost in the dark night of book-birthing purgatory. I could see what the characters needed, and more important, what this author needed in the way of brain rearrangement in order to climb back in with night vision. Finally…I had a doula!  ( A doula with a head-lamp!)  I recommend that any writer who needs a re-boot, or help on any level of writing and/or publishing, check into this phenomenal group of writerly elves.  You will not be sorry!

Lesson learned:  We don’t have to do it alone.   After all, my favorite quote from one of my favorite writers is:  I write in a solitude born of community.– Terry Tempest Williams

The teacher needs to be the student, indeed.

christina

Here are some words from Girl Friday Productions‘ head editor, Christina Henry de Tessan on why you might want to consider hiring a free lance editor:

Demystifying the Big Bad Editor and Her Red Pen

Working with an editor for the first time can feel daunting. After all, this might be the first time you put your manuscript in a stranger’s hands. Best case, you may feel like a real professional investing in your own career development (which is great!), but more often, you might find yourself fretting over the prospect of getting difficult feedback or panicking about whether your work is good enough. Either way, here are five things to keep in mind as you take this big, brave next step.

Editors love books. Every editor I’ve ever worked with loves what they do. We understand that it’s a privilege to get to collaborate with writers at this stage in the process and have tremendous respect for those who bravely submit their writing for professional feedback. So many of the editors I work with left jobs in the publishing industry and went freelance precisely because they wanted to spend more time working directly with authors and their manuscripts. It is immensely satisfying to help a writer enhance her strengths and polish a narrative so that it gets its message across to readers more effectively. Whether it’s figuring out how make a thriller more taut and suspenseful or helping an author who is very close to the subject find the most effective way to craft her memoir, we love nurturing the best possible story into being.

A freelance developmental editor is not the same as an acquisitions editor. We are not the gatekeepers determining whether or not a book will be purchased by the publishing house we work for. We are here to share our knowledge of the industry and the marketplace to give your manuscript the best chance of making that happen. Consider us your industry expert, cheerleader, and sounding board all rolled into one. We will do everything we can to help you communicate your message or story to the world as effectively—and brilliantly!—as possible. So don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions or get on the phone and brainstorm with your editor. That’s what we’re here for.

You don’t have to do everything we tell you to do. Honestly, we don’t expect you to. An editor is first and foremost your most valuable early reader. Yes, we have all kinds of editorial skill and genre knowledge, but ultimately we will probably be your closest reader. And as such, if something confuses us, sticks out, or makes us trip, then there probably is a little problem that needs your attention. That said, while we like to think we have the perfect solution every time, we don’t. There are often several potential solutions to a problem. If your editor’s suggestions don’t resonate with you, trust your instincts and propose an alternative that feels right. A good editor isn’t going to change your voice or make your book less “yours”. A good editor is going to help you fulfill the promise of your manuscript.

You are not alone if you feel nervous or vulnerable. It’s a big step, and it’s ok to feel a bit apprehensive. In fact, I wrote an entire post on how to handle your editorial letter for Girl Friday’s blog. A good way to settle your nerves is to schedule a call with your editor and explain how you’re feeling and ask any questions you have about their approach. If you’d rather receive feedback in the letter than have your manuscript marked up, let them know that. If you want very targeted feedback in the text, then say so. If you have questions about what they’ll be looking for, ask them.

Finally, take a moment to be proud of yourself. This is a big step, but we always learn when we invest in our own professional development. Working with a professional editor will not only give you new insights into your current manuscript but also provide you with tips and suggestions on how to improve your writing going forward, what the industry looks like, and a better understanding of the conventions and expectations of your genre. So don’t forget to stop and appreciate this milestone.

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No Agenda– mother daughter inspiration

I’d like to share this blog post I did for the Parelli Natural hosemanship blog today.  It introduces some very special people in my life.  You might recognize the horse woman from my book.  Here she is:  Bobbi Hall.  But first a word about her amazing child, Cedar, who makes Down’s Syndrome look like mystic freedom, and maybe it is.  It is my great pleasure to share about them here.

http://central.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/2010/10/no-agenda-by-laura-munson-for-cedar-vance-and-bobbi-hall/

photo by Kylanne Sandelin

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Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts, Parelli Natural Horsemanship Blog Pieces