Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chapter Summaries

For some reason known only to the blogging gods, this post fell out of cyberspace and never appeared on The Writing Life. Thus, it is out of order unless I can figure out how to magically put it where it belongs, which is after the outline and before Chapter 1. If you are confused, I don’t blame you, and I do apologize.

When I teach people how to write a book proposal, I always link the outline to the chapter summaries. I attempt to make it a seamless process, but I realize it requires much thought and wordsmithing to go from bullet points to well-crafted paragraphs. The key is that outlines and chapter summaries are based on intentions—this is how I envision my book and what I intend to write. But a book is fluid and alive and may be quite different at the end than it was in the planning phase. Think of it this way: Your outline is the skeleton of your content, and the summaries are your first pass at putting some meat on the bones.

1. 1968-1972 • You’ve Got Talent

It began innocuously in a night school class taught by a newspaper reporter. I remember only one thing from that class: the teacher took me by the shoulders and said, “I know talent when I see it. You’ve got talent. You’d better keep writing!” I believed her and I struggled to learn to write, get published, and fill one small portfolio. It took me four and a half years.

2. 1972-1973 • Instant Editor

All it took to go from obscurity, writing at a picnic table in my basement, to being a sought-after edit or of a “city magazine” was someone crazy enough to hire me. I was barely a writer, and suddenly I was running a magazine. I knew nothing but was willing to learn from anyone who would teach me. The good news was that I launched a lot of talented writers, artists, and photographers. The bad news was that I never learned to read a profit and loss (P&L) statement. That’s a failing in someone who runs a publication.

3. 1973-1978 • The Making of a Writer

My next job was at St. Louis’s well-established business magazine. My title was a comedown (assistant editor); the salary was a joke; the working conditions were abysmal; my boss was an old-school patriarch; but I did become a “real writer.” I was a one-person writing staff, and in the six years I was there, I built a strong reputation in the community and filled volumes with my articles. However, I was treated like a secretary and didn’t make enough money to go to the gas station and the grocery store in the same week.

4. 1978-1980 • Corporate Culture Shock

I was not born with the corporate gene, and my first job in “big business” was a constant, often painful, reminder. The whole department was comprised of women (a mistake); the general environment was a political nightmare; but the writing and view of the park from the 17th floor made it bearable. The corporation owned 120 small companies, so the subject matter was all over the place. Eventually, there was a coup in the executive office, and our department was disbanded. We were out by 4:00, just before they locked the file cabinets and wallpapered over the door.

5. 1980 • Fear & Freelancing

I never liked job-hunting, but being a single mom with two daughters made it an urgent matter. While I was circulating my resume and making sure my interview suits were clean, I was landing lucrative freelance projects and making some great contacts in the St. Louis business world. It was a heady experience. I think I knew then that freelancing would be a great life, but I needed a real job with benefits. The prospects were not looking good.

6. 1980-1982 • Disappointed & Dejected

When I was just about losing hope, I had three job offers. I took the one that was the least chaotic and had the best salary. My boss made it seem like I was the best thing that ever happened to him … until the day I started the job. Lesson learned: interview your predecessor and check out your workspace before you accept the offer. Mine office was dismal, but it reflected the general mood of misery that pervaded the department, which was run by a paranoid, petty tyrant (I sure had a way of finding them.) Everything about the job was depressing except for the writing and photography. Once again, I was the whole staff, and I produced so many publications I could barely keep track. I was stressed out. I had to join a gym.

7. 1982-1989 • The Best of Times, the Worst of times

I was hired away by a company that seemed too good to be true, which, of course, it was. I had multiple job titles while I was there—writer, editor, account executive, and marketing manager. The crux of the matter was some doubt on the part of the top man that I could really write, despite having hired me because I was considered to be the best writer in town. So, I spent six-and-a-half years proving I could write, produced the best work of my career, and filled in the remaining gaps in my experience and education. I lost the battle, cleaned out my office, and spent the next few weeks trying to decide what to do. I was getting good at this.

8. 1987 • AMA, The Biggest Break

Hooking up with the American Management Association was the beginning of big things that created the perfect link between a full-time job and full-time freelancing. A colleague recommended me to write three “little books,” and they were little—only 50 pages each. They were like training wheels for being an author, and they led to much bigger books and many cassette-training programs. It was a great gig, while it lasted, but AMA eventually fell upon hard times.

9. 1990 • Going Solo

I had dreamed of being a full-time, independently employed writer since 1980, but it took being “terminated” to make it happen. After 20 years of loving what I did but not necessarily where I was doing it, I hung out my shingle. The freelance life in the ’90s was wonderful. There was plenty of work and plenty of money. Corporate magazines were paying $1.00 a word! I landed steady corporate clients, some of which lasted for years. My motto was, "You need it; I can do it.” And I did. It was an exhilarating time, despite no understanding of how to run a business. I still had no idea what a P&L statement was. That’s also a failing in an entrepreneur.

10. 2001 • The Bottom Drops Out

What goes up must go down, and life as I knew it ceased to be with a loud thud. The economy tanked in 2001; my clients (all very large companies) panicked and fired all their outside consultants; and I found myself with no work. That is not an exaggeration. I was already in shock when September 11th forever changed the world. The next four years were sort of a blur. I had to start over again, and this time it was going to require ingenuity and imagination. I started writing a training program on how to write a nonfiction book. The training program never materialized, but the material evolved into a workbook I used to teach classes at the community college.

11. 2005 • Reinventing Myself, Again

I was finding work again when life gave me a gentle nudge in a new direction. I was hired to write a book for the CEO of a large hospital system that had won the Malcolm Baldrige Award for Excellence. I knew nothing about the CEO, the hospital system, or the Baldrige; but I took a six-month crash course in all three and wrote the book. Suddenly, I was a ghostwriter, albeit one who didn’t know what she was doing. My little workbook got fatter and fatter; I landed other ghostwriting and editing assignments, and I began to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. The right person came into my life at the right time—a web-marketing guru who taught me the ropes. For the first time, I was truly marketing my business, and clients were finding me on the Web. It was finally coming together.

12. 2008 • Helping Writers Write

Defining one’s mission in a single sentence is not easy. Yet, in a way, I have always known mine. For most of my 40-year career, it was, I want to write. But as I find myself in a new and different place in life, my mission has evolved. Now, in addition to writing, I want to help other writers write. As a teacher, a book coach, and an editor, I have come full circle since my first real job as an editor that allowed me to publish talented writers. My students and clients are publishing their books, and one by one, they are being added to the “friends-of-Bobbi shelf” in my bookcase. I am prouder of those books than of any that bear my own byline.