My Words Are Gonna Linger – Personal Histories

It’s one of my new writing interests, and something I’ve almost always been fascinated by (my uncle once told me I was born a genealogist) — I’m starting to write personal and family histories for people, in order to help preserve some of the great stories people carry around with them.

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I have joined the Association of Personal Historians, which recently launched an anthology of 49 true stories out into the world. From the My Words Are Gonna Linger press release:

New anthology captures stories from real life, told in the authentic voices of the storyteller

TAMPA, FLA February 12, 2009 /PRNewswire/ — The passion for sharing personal stories is not only the most powerful way to pass on the experiences, wisdom and voices of one generation to the next—it’s an expression of a deep human need to shout to the future, “Do not forget me! I was here!”

A new anthology, My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal History, celebrates the preservation of stories to ensure that our eyewitness accounts of history endure. Available February 1 from Personal History Press, the publishing arm of the Association of Personal Historians, the book differs from other anthologies by providing insight into the memoir-writing process and practical tips on how to start writing your own or someone else’s life story. Read more.

I have been hearing about this book and I’m eager to get my own copy. I thought I’d let you know about it, too.

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Hamakua Springs Blogging Tidbits

One of my favorite jobs is managing the blog Ha Ha Ha! over at Hamakua Springs Country Farms, and this week I got to write a couple posts that I especially enjoying delving into.

The first was about Brudda Skibs, who recently participated in a sustainability festival Hamakua Springs owner Richard Ha helped coordinate. What an incredible person. Skibs and the crew he’s attracted over the years volunteer their time and labor to clean up Big Island lands near the ocean and turn them into beautiful parks. There is so much more to his story than just that, though. He is really making a difference.

Watch the video at that post and you can see right into his heart. 

The other post was on the Pacific Century Fellows, a group of up-and-coming business leaders who visited the Big Island (and Hamakua Springs) as a part of their year-long program. Interesting people, and ones we’ll all be hearing about in the news, I suspect, in years to come.

In the course of researching that post, I learned a couple things that didn’t make it into the story: Such as that, in exploring the issues and challenges in areas as diverse as the criminal justice system, education, agriculture, the military and many others, they started one of their days in a prison block, and on another day were flown out to an aircraft carrier.

The things I learn as a freelance writer! It keeps life interesting.

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2009: My Power Freelancing Year, In Spite of the Economic Disaster

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, which usually just end up being rather disappointing.

But like many people, I do tend to get reflective at the end of the year. Doesn’t it seem like a perfect time to pull one’s thoughts together and plan for a fresh new year coming up? While our bodies are relaxed and full of hot cider and snowball cookies, the new year always seems full of delicious possibilities.

This year, in my reflections, I knew that I’m ready to have a Power Year in terms of my work as a freelance writer.

Does that surprise you, in these times of economic disaster? Though I will undoubtedly have to market myself harder, companies that need to increase their own marketing in this tough market are still hiring writers. And I do several different kinds of writing, which gives me options.

More than ever, I still maintain that working for oneself, for many different clients who work in many different industries — clients that you can add to or replace as needed — is a more secure way to make a living than counting on one employer that could let you go at any time.

I have many specific ideas about what “Power Year” means to me — in terms of income goals, increasing my base of steady clients and doing some different, new-to-me types of writing. I have broken down my goals into categories that I want to further, or work toward, or start on. And I’ve written down the specific, strategic steps I want to take in each area. 

I put it all in writing. And at the end of each month, I will check that document and see how I’m doing and if anything seems to be falling off the radar. I will start a section with the month’s name and note what I accomplished.

I know that I achieve so much more this way than if I merely slogged through my year a day at a time. Maybe some people can do that. But I need to have a plan laid out in front of me if I want to move forward and achieve more than just the same old thing.

The other thing I did before the New Year was to clear off my desk, which has a tendency to get a little chaotic at times (and then, consequently, so does my brain). Both were like that — messy and needing tending — at the end of 2008.

It feels wonderful to sit here at a neat and tidy desk, everything I am actively working on in a short, reasonable pile to the left of my computer. 

You might think what your writing (or other) goals are this year. Then break them down into “actionable” steps (don’t you hate that word? I do). 

(I hate it so much that if I think of a better word while lying in bed tonight, I will get up and change it.)

If you’d like to propose a newspaper column this year, maybe your first steps are to read a couple books about how to write newspaper columns, and scour the web for everything that’s been written about it. Write down those steps.

Maybe your next steps would go something like this:

• Call XX, a local newpaper columnist, and ask to buy her lunch and have an informational interview about column-writing and writing for her newspaper.

• Pinpoint your column’s focus, title and approach.

• Write six sample columns.

• Get feedback from trusted writer mentor or friend.

• Revise.

• Approach newspaper editor at XX with your proposal.

• If no, approach second choice newspaper editor.

Write down your goals and the steps you’ll need to take to reach each one. Then look at that list every work day and move down it. One thing at a time. Knock ’em off.

Even if you don’t fully achieve your end goal — and you might — having a plan will get you much, much closer to it than just muddling along.

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Procrastination and the Freelance Writer

Procrastination is not the freelance writer’s friend. 

Of all the suggestions I’ve heard over the years regarding being an efficient freelance writer, one of the best has been to start on an assignment as soon as you get it.

I try to do this and it really works. Sometimes it’s just getting started that’s the hardest part of writing something. So even if I just jot down some notes regarding how I plan to approach the story, gather up background research and set it aside in a folder, or make a list of possible interview subjects and find their contact information, it means I’ve already plowed in. When I’m ready to devote my attention to that assignment, it’s all downhill.

In related news, I was amused when I came across this Procrastinator’s Clock.

If your procrastination problems mean you have difficulty getting out the door, or to appointments on time, check it out. It’s guaranteed to be up to 15 minutes fast. However, it also speeds up and slows down in an unpredictable manner so you can’t be sure how fast it really is

Good grief. It would drive me nuts. But it is amusing.

And it makes me glad I work at home, in my comfortable office, where I work hard and put in a lot of hours, but where 15 minutes one way or the other usually just isn’t that critical.

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Books on Writing

I guess it’s no surprise there are so many books about writing. We writers need something to write about, and some of us write about writing. And then the rest of us read about it.

Writing is a craft that I continually work at. In college I majored in journalism, and since then I have continued to take writing classes (both in person and online), participate in professional writers’ groups and online forums, and sometimes in local writers groups.

And I also read how other people have succeeded as writers. How they do it. Their tips.

They’re just like us, most of those other writers. We’re all just people sitting in front of a yellow pad of paper or a laptop, starting with a blank screen and a head full of ideas. Reading about how some people have accomplished what they’ve done has, over the years, helped me set goals for my own writing, and reach high.

I could read about writing, instead of sitting down and actually writing, until the cows come home. (“What cows?” asked my four-year-old with a puzzled look when I used that expression the other day.) It’s a terrific means of procrastination.

Here are just some of the books on my shelves, which I’ve loosely grouped into categories. Some of these books are better than others. Many I’ve reread, and learned from or been inspired by.

BUSINESS

You are only a hobbyist, and will get nowhere as a freelance writer, until you accept that it’s a business and you need to be businesslike (in setting goals, where you focus your efforts, calculating your overhead and knowing how much to charge, protecting your copyrights, handling accounting, paying taxes and much more). Some creative sorts have to really force themselves to buckle down and learn the business aspect of being a self-employed writer. Here are some books that can help: 

  • The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing, ed. by Timothy Harper
  • This Business of Writing, by Gregg Levoy
  • Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, by Jenna Glazer
  • Six-Figure Freelancing, by Kelly James-Enger

 

BY WRITERS ABOUT WRITING

I don’t know how to group these books, some of which inspired and convinced me I could quit the day job and live happily as a writer.

  • Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
  • The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
  • If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland
  • Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
  • Making a Literary Life, by Carolyn See
  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • No Mentor But Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers, ed. by Dale L. Walker and Jeanne Campbell Reesman

 

FICTION/NOVEL WRITING

What pondering these titles from my bookshelf tells me is that I have long wanted to delve more into fiction and novel-writing. But I knew that already. Maybe I’ll reread some of these and get started soon.

  • On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner
  • On Teaching and Writing Fiction, by Wallace Stegner
  • The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner
  • Writing the Novel, by Lawrence Block
  • Writing Fiction, by Janet Burroway
  • How to Write a Book Proposal, by Michael Larsen
  • The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, ed. by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron and the editors of Writer’s Digest

 

MAGAZINE/NEWSPAPER WRITING

I have done an awful lot of this. I started out writing an occasional freelance piece for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and then got a regular freelance gig working for Hilo’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald, where I wrote features and entertainment articles every week. Like most newspapers it paid poorly but, in retrospect, it was terrific in teaching me how to just sit down and do it. I also got over my reluctance to call people when I had several articles due each week. That was worth it all right there. 

After that I started writing for magazines. More interesting, more in-depth, more time for craft. Yet it still doesn’t pay enough to pay the bills. I know there are a few people who only write for national magazines and make a good living, but that’s not the norm. If magazine freelancing is your plan, you’d better have some other income, too.

  • The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, by William E. Blundell
  • Writing for Story, by Jon Franklin
  • Creative Nonfiction, by Philip Gerard
  • Story, by Robert McKee
  • Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, ed. by Jean Fredette
  • You Can Write a Column, by Monica McCabe Cordoza
  • The Renegade Writer, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
  • Travel Writing, See the World, Sell the Story, by L. Peat O’Neil
  • Literary Journalism, ed. by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer

 

MEMOIR

  • Living to Tell the Tale, A Guide to Writing Memoir, by Jane Taylor McDonnell
  • Inventing the Truth, the Art and Craft of Memoir, ed. by William Zinsser

 

ON WRITERS

It’s aways fun to read how other writers do it. Computer? Typewriter? Pencil and pen? These books are much more than just that, though.

  • Writers on Writing, Collected Essays from the New York Times
  • The Writer on Her Work, by Janet Sternberg
  • The New New Journalism, ed. by Robert S. Boynton

 

COPYWRITING 

A lot of my work these days falls under the category of copywriting. These books were somewhat interesting as I started out writing for businesses, but I’ve found that I figured out a lot of it by myself, along the way. The Well-Fed Writer is currently a bible to some copywriters.

  • The $100,000 Writer, by Nancy Flynn
  • The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman
  • Secrets of a Freelance Writer, by Bob Bly
  • The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Bob Bly

 

RADIO

This is one of the few books from my long-ago college journalism days that I’ve kept. I have worked in public (and commercial) radio a little bit, and really enjoyed it. I keep the book in case I get back into it one day. Cool book.

  • Telling the Story, the National Public Radio Guide to Radio Journalism

 

LASTLY

And, my favorite title of all though (to be honest) I don’t remember a thing about the book itself:

  • Too Lazy To Work, Too Nervous to Steal, How to have a great life as a freelance writer, by John Clausen
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Isabella Bird & Other Historical Non-Fiction to Read While Traveling

I have a good friend coming to visit here on the Big Island next week, a history buff like me, and I’ll have to find out if she’s ever read Isabella Bird.

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I love reading an interesting book about a place while exploring it, and I highly recommend Isabella Bird’s book if you’re planning to visit (or if you live in) Hawai‘i.

I can remember reading Sarum when visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and Jane Austen in, of course, Bath. And Michener’s Iberia (or parts of it anyway; I remember a great section on gazpacho that sent me seeking the stuff at every turn) while in Portugal. And, oh, The Agony and the Ecstacy while in Rome — that was a wonderful decision.

Isabella Bird was born in England in 1831, and (from Wikipedia), “was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel.”

Gotta love that. 

She sure did travel. Among many other adventures (and writings), she was in Hawai‘i in the 1870s, and later wrote the book The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six months among the palm groves, coral reefs, and volcanoes of The Sandwich Islands. She was a thorough, descriptive and upbeat writer and I enjoy reading her accounts. I also admire her for traveling alone as a woman in the 19th century and having so many great adventures.

Here’s a description of Hilo from her book:

What Honolulu attempts to be, Hilo is without effort. Its crescent-shaped bay, said to be the most beautiful in the Pacific, is a semi-circle of about two miles, with its farther extremity formed by Cocoanut Island, a black lava islet on which this palm obtains great perfection, and beyond it again a fringe of cocoanuts marks the deep indentation of the shore. From this island to the north part of the bay, there is a band of golden sand on which the roar of the surf sounded thunderous and drowsy as it mingled with the music of living waters, the Waiakea and the Wailuku, which after lashing the sides of the mountains which give them birth, glide deep and fern-fringed into the ocean. Native houses, half hidden by greenery, line the bay, and stud the heights above the Wailuku, and near the landing some white frame houses and three church spires above the wood denote the foreign element. Hilo is unique.

Hilo still looks pretty much like that! I can picture it. It’s a great book if you’re interested in reading more, and it’s easily available in paperback.

What books have enriched your travels? I’d love to hear.

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Freelancing in a Poor Economy

Someone told me recently about her son, a graphic designer who works full time for an agency and does freelance jobs on the side. She said he has considered leaving his full time job to freelance full-time, but worries about doing that in this poor economy.

Here’s my response to that:

Especially in this poor economy, I feel much more secure working for myself — my pay flowing in from many different clients — than being at the whim of only one employer. 

In these uncertain economic times, a full-time job can disappear at any moment. But if you’re good at what you do, work hard, and especially if you already have a stable of jobs going on, leaving the uncertainty of a full-time job for the freelance life seems like a no-brainer to me.

Spreading your work (and income) around to many clients is the smartest kind of diversification. You’re not relying on one employer, one company, one industry. Not putting all your eggs in one basket and all that.

I’m not suggesting anyone quit a steady job with some vague dreams about freelancing. It’s serious business. Learn what you’re doing first, and work up to it. Make sure you have what it takes.

But if you know what you’re doing, have clients lined up, and work hard, it’s very doable. Even in this economy. Especially in this economy.

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Hamakua Springs: The Blog

One of my jobs these days is to blog for Hamakua Springs Country Farms, a 600-acre, progressive hydroponic farm here on the Big Island.

We started that blog more than two years ago. That’s when the farm’s owner, Richard Ha, hired me to create a website, and then a blog, for Hamakua Springs. My husband Macario, a photographer, did all that website’s photography, and that’s how he and I got to know Richard and June.

The blog is called “Ha Ha Ha!,” which is meant to represent the three generations of the Ha family who farm there. We have some fun with the blog while also tackling some big topics.

Richard and I have posted to his blog three times a week for more than two years now, and it is one of my absolute favorite gigs. He is a gem to work with. He is an amazing person who is using his very successful business not merely to make as much money as possible, but to do good for his community. That sentence may sound trite, but know that I don’t at all write it lightly.

Here is just one recent example. There are many, many others.

It is such a rare pleasure to work with Richard Ha. He is truly a man of character and he radiates ethics in everything he does. I know he doesn’t realize how much I’ve learned from him — about business, about community and relationships, about life. He is one of the best people I have ever met and I am honored to be a part of his trusted team.

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Let Me Introduce Myself

Here in Hawai’i, we introduce ourselves when we meet by telling who our family is and where we’re from; we put ourselves into a context, and try to establish some sort of a connection to each other. It’s traditional among Hawaiians. So let me tell you who I am.

My name is Leslie Lang and I am a freelance writer living near Hilo, Hawai’i. That’s on what we call the Big Island of Hawai’i, on the east (windward; rainier; lush) side of the island.

My father’s family is from this island. Some go back to the beginning, when Polynesians first landed on this island and eventually evolved into Hawaiians, and others were English and Chinese.

My mother’s English/Irish family is from West Virginia, deep in the most beautiful hills where the trees turn brilliant reds and oranges and yellows in the fall, and where they make really good cornbread in a skillet in the oven. I do that too.

It’s a pretty diverse genealogical background, huh? I love it all.

My family lives in my grandmother’s wonderful old rambly home in the country. It’s a good life.

I have a lot of stories to tell and some other things to say, and I am a writer, and so, voila! A blog.

I’ll post here about:

  • Freelance writing (Who, what, where, how and probably even why)
  • Being self-employed (Coming soon: Is it riskier, in this or any economy, than working full-time for one employer? Or much, much safer?)
  • Living in Hawai’i (It’s a pretty great place to live)
  • Historic Hilo town (I wrote a book recently about beautiful Hilo and its history)
  • and, I’m sure, how all these subjects intersect in my life

Whether you are looking for a writer, are yourself self-employed as a writer (or want to be) and are interested in how others do it, or are interested in Hilo or Hawai‘i in general, I hope you’ll check back! Or even subscribe to my feed. I’ll try to keep it interesting. And please, always feel free to continue the conversation by leaving a comment.

You can also always contact me at leslie@leslielang.com.

Aloha,

Leslie

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