Monday, September 29, 2008

Guest blog post from a very funny writer

I want to share a post from on of my favorite blogs, The Life of Wryly, but only after the caveat that all comments about me are to be ignored. I'm terribly flattered, but I think Mrs. Wryly got a bit carried away. That said, here are her thoughts about our great writers' group.

"It’s about time that I write about my writer’s group. Really, that’s being a little possessive, as it’s actually “our” writer’s group. We are the writers from Bobbi’s “How to Write a Non-Fiction Book” class, which was offered through our community college system in the spring semester this year.

"Initially reading the class description in the non-credit course catalog, I was so excited! I couldn’t wait until the day that registration opened so I could call and recite my credit card number over the phone to secure my spot in the class. One of the requirements was that enrollees had to have a book concept. No problem; I would bluff my way through that. Anything to feel like a writer, to be with other writers, to have a reason to write, even to say the word “write.” It all felt so right.

"At the first class we met our instructor, Bobbi, a petite dynamo of a writer who is extremely talented and well-respected in her craft. She claims to be 70 years of age, but if that’s true, then 70 is the new 50, which conveniently makes her my age. Bobbi is very supportive and nurturing of fledgling writers. She didn’t even laugh (in front of the class) when I fumbled for a book concept and came up with “Diet of 49,” which was going to be a journal of my weight loss success from puffing and panting on the treadmill, and pushing away desserts toward my 50th birthday.

"The other writers (love that word!) had such important things to write about, like bi-polarism, estuaries, the circle of life, being a Holocaust survivor, how to research your home’s history, helping others through your life’s mistakes, faith, and more. And there was my fluffy, vain topic in the middle of all that: “Uhh, I want to write about working toward my goal of losing 13 pounds before my 50th birthday.” Something just didn’t seem right about that.

"My fellow writers’ material could be in literary magazines; mine would be more appropriate for a supermarket tabloid. “Menopausal Woman Born with Three Appetites Loses Weight the Old-Fashioned Way: Diet & Exercise.” YAWN!!!

"From Bobbi’s class, we writers learned how much work is involved to organize a book, to write a book proposal, to potentially market a book, and to make scores of decisions regarding how the book will ultimately be produced. We also learned how exasperated she could get at our procrastinations. Bobbi expects books from all of us!!! To this day!!! What are you waiting for? Today could be the first day of your life as a published writer! Do you know how incredible that would feel???

"Bobbi’s next book will be 12,124 Excuses Not to Write: Some Fiction, Some Non, as told to her by her Non-Fiction Book Writers’ class.

"When the course was over, all books were still in process. Super-Kind Techno Jan, who had already set us up on the Internet for communications, insisted that we meet for support and critique, seconded by All-Around-Woman-of-the-Millennium Lynn, who offered her centrally located home. Always-Did-Her-Homework Kim the Wit, Lynn’s Awesome Daughter Mary with the Interesting Life and Job, and I rounded out the forum, along with No-Excuses Spunky Bobbi. There were others in the class and some have made guest appearances, and some we haven’t seen. We speak often of our former fellow writers nostalgically.

"We refused to let go of the class because it might push us back into the abyss of non-writing. That’s not acceptable. There are books to be written. Today! What are we waiting for?

"My writer’s group is like a new warm ‘n’ fuzzy pashmina cuddled around my neck, encircling it with encouragement, and resting partially on my back to keep the words flowing.

"I love each writer in my writer’s group, and I love the word: writer."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Podcasting Lessons

Every time I think I’m getting proficient on the computer, I run into something that absolutely stumps me. So it is with podcasting, which is beginning to drive me absolutely crazy.

I probably wouldn't have undertaken it at all if I hadn’t bought a new Mac and signed up for the $99 offer of a lifetime — Apple’s one-to-one training program. Along with individual training sessions, I received a little box of tiny manuals on topics to cover. After the Mac genius solved all my software problems; got my mail program to work; and taught me iPhoto, iPod, and iChat, it was time for Garage Band.

Garage band is mostly about making music, but it has other functions, as well. One of them is recording audio or video podcasts. Now that I’m blog savvy, I decided it was time to enter the world of podcasting.

Let me say out the outset that I am not Garage Band-literate or intuitive. It’s pretty much a mystery to me, despite four of one-to-one sessions on the subject and a book that a third grader could understand. After many false starts, I have managed to record one so far, but the second one isn’t going too well. In fact, I’ve recorded it five or six times and thrown it in the trash every time. While I know there are ways to split the recording, rerecord corrections, get rid of the mistakes, and drop in the new material, I can’t seem to do any of those things.

Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings on this subject. I want to scream and throw the microphone across the room (yes, of course, I bought a microphone). But wait. Let’s think this through. Since the late eighties, when I got my first computer — an Osborne — I have learned three different word processing programs, Excel, Photoshop, Quark Xpress and InDesign, several versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, two website design programs, time and billing, and mind-mapping. I’ve designed my own website, set up my blog, and become a fixture on on-line article sites.

In short, I am no cyber-slouch … except for this one elusive, little skill. I don’t understand it, and neither do my one-to-one trainers. But failure is not an option here, so back I go this week to revisit what we did last week. I wonder if five sessions on podcasting are some sort of a record.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The best laid plans …

It’s September — one of my favorite months. September is the start of so many things, including school. In recent years I’ve discovered how much I love teaching, which is somewhat ironic. Fifty years ago, when I walked into my first classroom, I was ready to run for my life. What had I been thinking, majoring in elementary education? I didn’t belong there, staring at 20 little eight-year-olds and trying to keep them from swinging from the chandeliers. That year was an endurance contest; I survived, but barely.

Traumatized, I didn’t walk into a classroom again for decades. When I finally did it was my love of the subject matter and the conviction that I could actually teach it that broke the barrier. I was teaching writing to adults, adults who were eager to learn, eager to write.

For the last five or six years I’ve been sharing what I know about how to write, publish, and promote a nonfiction book. I wrote a workbook, which keeps getting fatter with each edition, and used it as a text in several different continuing education programs in St. Louis. With each class I hope I become a better teacher. The classes are never the same. The students are different; their subject matter is unique; the dynamics of the group change every time,

I throw my heart into these little six-week sessions, and my money as well, trying to devise the perfect way to provide helpful handouts that don’t break the community college’s budget. I am often able to line up terrific speakers who are experts in their respective fields. At the last session we always have a party, and the students (by now, budding authors) often stay together to form writing groups. Of all the things I do, teaching has become my passion.

I am ready for my next class, which is supposed to start Monday. But something is amiss. Apparently, enrollment at the all three campuses of the community college is down — way down. No one knows precisely why. Perhaps it’s the price of gas or the upcoming election, though how an election that is two months away could influence whether people sign up for night school is beyond me. More likely it is the belt tightening brought on by a sagging economy. Whatever the reason, my class, which often has to be closed when registration hits the maximum, has barely made the minimum.

I received a call yesterday informing me that, though there are only six people in the class, the school is willing to go ahead with it. “It’s up to you,” the caller said. I struggled with what to do for about it for a minute before I reluctantly cancelled. Classes always shrink for a variety of reasons, starting out with 15 and usually ending up with 12 committed students. I taught a class with six people a few years ago and watched it dwindle in size from six to two. Miraculously, we persevered through the six weeks and beyond. The two writers came to class every week and actually wrote their books. One illustrated hers, and the other is waiting to hear from a publisher.

Still, it was not an ideal situation. One of the strengths of these classes is the rapport and support that develops among the students. To establish that rapport you need critical mass, strange as that seems,

I’m disappointed, and the few people I know who e-mailed me to tell me they were taking the class are probably disappointed, as well. Perhaps they will sign up for the next session in chilly February. In light of what is going on in the country and the world right now, a cancelled class is a small thing. But for most of us, it is the small things that compose our lives: habits, routines, aspirations, plans.

But as Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” My cancelled class is just one more example of the that piece of wisdom.