Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking for a specific blog post?

There are more than I realized, so I am taking a brief break from Words to Live By (my online book) to provide the list of back posts ... just in case you're looking.

Chapter 12 • 2008-2010 • Helping Writers Write

When people tell me they want to write a book, I always ask, “What is your book about … in one sentence?” It is so difficult to answer that question. Unless these aspiring authors have developed a sound byte they can rattle off in thirty seconds, they tend to explain why they want to write the book or tell a long story about the book’s content. Somewhere in that monologue is the point: what the book is about.

In my classes, I insist that every student must answer that question in a way anyone can understand. We don’t move forward until they do, and sometimes that takes a while. In a class fellow students can help to clarify a concept by asking questions and making suggestions. Eventually, everyone succeeds, though they may not understand until much later why this is so important. Yet, they are delighted when someone asks about their books and they are able to confidently respond with a single, well-crafted statement.

If defining the subject of a book is so tough, imagine what it takes to define a life. Training courses on subjects as diverse as managing time and dealing with change often start by asking participants to distill their mission into one sentence. What is your purpose? What matters to you? What do you value? It is hard to set goals or even manage time if you have no North Star to guide you.

Perhaps because I have been to many such programs, I have spent considerable time pondering the answers to those questions. For most of the past forty years, I have come up with the same answer: My purpose is to write. That has been the foundation, to which I have added new goals along the way. I sometimes visualize my career as a house with many additions, some of which go with the original design, while others are just extra rooms I never intended to build.

No one is more surprised than I that the foundation has held firm all these years. “What are you doing these days?” someone will ask me. “Still writing,” I reply. “Really? That’s great!” they may say, as if they thought I would be in another line of work (or retired) by now. I know I am among those fortunate people who find their life’s work and never question their choice.

“"I want you to know, my life changed with taking your class. You gave me the confidence and boldness to be able to put myself out there with my writing. Heroes aren't Superman; they are people like you who take the time to nurture the potential in others so they, in turn, have something to offer someone else. Thank you."

Spring 2008• Kim Dailey • Special Education Teacher

The writing life has neither been a breeze nor filled with the romance of book tours and appearances on the Today Show and Oprah. I have not written a best seller, though I haven’t given up on that dream. Many of my books are out of print, but I have discovered that people do own them. Once, when I lent my only copy of Polish Your People Skills to a client, who lent it to someone else, I bought a used copy on Amazon.

I have always considered myself a working writer. By that, I mean I worked for other people, as a salaried employee or a freelancer and wrote about topics of their choosing. I tackled wide-ranging subject matter, primarily about business and always nonfiction. Only in recent years have I have begun to write articles and books about writing.

A few years ago, when I knew I had to rethink my business strategy or sink, I talked to woman whom I had known for a long time. As “The Job Doctor,” she had years of accumulated wisdom to share with people who were trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I was at a crossroads, and I felt stuck. Entrepreneurs do tend to rethink their direction every five years or so, she said. Being in a state of suspended animation is normal after fifteen years in business. I left feeling somewhat validated but still unsure of where to go from there.

While my entrance into the world of ghostwriting was serendipitous, major changes often happen that way. My mission had evolved when I began to clarify my expanding role and add book coaching and editing to the mix. In addition to writing, I now wanted to help other writers write. With my first job as a magazine editor, I became hooked on enabling talented people to have their work published.

Teaching reintroduced me to the joy of helping others write their stories. I was surprised at how much I loved to teach. I treated my little continuing education class like a graduate-level course in writing. I wrote lesson plans, invited professionals to speak, assigned homework, and read and critiqued students’ work. I related to each of my students and the subjects of their books. At times when the economy foundered, and people were holding on to their money, the community college was often forced to cancel some classes. I felt adrift when mine was among them, and I was unable to teach.

“"Do you realize how many people you've inspired with your classes? You inspired me to write, even though I'm the world's worst procrastinator. Thank you for your encouragement, your sense of humor and your ability to handle awkward situations with aplomb. I enjoy your blog very much - keep it going."

Spring 2008 • Marilyn Heidbrier

When my students and clients began to publish their books, I felt like a proud grandmother. As I put each new, autographed copy on my “friends-of-Bobbi shelf,” I knew that I was doing exactly what I should be doing. I treasure these books more than my own.

Years ago, before anyone ever heard the expression, “pay it forward,” I understood the concept. I realized that no one succeeds without help. I doubt that I even remember all the people who helped me or fully appreciated what they did for me. There was no way to repay them except to pass it on to the next generation of writers. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do so. Whenever someone thanks me for advice or assistance, I remind them of their obligation to those who are right behind them on the path. The image of an unbroken chain comes to mind.

Friday, January 29, 2010


A memoir is a snapshot of a particular time or event in a person’s life—in this case, four decades of a career that began modestly and developed in ways I could never have predicted. When I was living the moments of those forty years, I was aware of every one. No one is more surprised than I to realize those moments have added up to more than half my life.

I often felt as if I were climbing a mountain, one tiny foothold at a time. This is not the end of my climb by any means, but it is a good place to pause and look over my shoulder to see the path I have taken. If that path was a little uneven at times, from this vantage point, it doesn’t seem so apparent.

My career has given me a glorious educational opportunity, not only in terms of the subjects I’ve studied and written about but even more important, what it has taught me about achieving my wildest dream of becoming a writer. The following lessons have helped me grow, learn, and reinvent myself when necessary.

  • If you know what you want to do, don’t let anything or anyone stop you from doing it.
  • With a little talent and a lot of moxie, you can be whatever you choose to be.
  • Set attainable goals that stretch you; as you achieve each one, set another one immediately.
  • Writing is not a competitive sport; don’t be threatened by others people’s success
  • Seek mentors; then become one.
  • Be generous with your talent; remember that it’s a gift; pass it on.
  • Know what your values are; let your writing reflect them.
  • Don’t lose your sense of humor.
  • As yourself from time to time if there is something else you would rather do; if you can’t think of anything, keep writing.

With a little tweaking, these lessons can apply to any dream, any career, any life.

Chapter 11 • 2005-2009 • Reinventing Myself

Life takes the most unexpected twists and turns. So many times over the years, I was heading down a path when I came to a bend in the road. The question was always the same: Should I turn or keep on going straight? There is no right answer, which was probably what inspired Robert Frost to write “The Road Not Taken.” So many times, as Frost suggested, I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.

The path I was on in 2005 was teaching, polishing my little 36-page workbook, and looking for freelance work. My luck was changing, and I was landing well-paying projects at last. One of the most interesting assignments came from a client who had just been promoted. There was a search on for her replacement as director of communications at a catholic health care system of hospitals. This was my dream job, and even though I had not considered full-time work for years, I submitted my resume. As an outsider, I had already observed the intensity of the place. Everyone juggled multiple responsibilities and worked long hours. I wondered if I could maintain that pace at my age and state of health. The CEO was a year older than I but seemed indefatigable, setting a daunting standard for the entire staff. Nonetheless, I was definitely in the running for the position when an “internal candidate” surfaced. Since this was an organization that promoted from within, the opportunity evaporated. I was both disappointed and relieved.

There’s an old saying about one door closing and another one opening. Before I could even feel discouraged about not getting the job, I was standing at one of those open doors. The CEO was thinking of writing a book. Well, to be honest, she was being urged to write a book by her senior communications staff. Convincing her took some doing. While she was a powerhouse of a leader and a great speaker, she was, by her own admission, an introvert. She didn’t want to do it, but her staff prevailed and asked me if I would like to be considered as a ghostwriter.

I was at the proverbial bend in the road, and the impulse to turn in a new direction was too strong to resist. I said yes. The competition was stiff. The other candidate was an experienced ghostwriter, a referral from someone with influence, and Catholic. His proposed fee was much too high. I was hired.

This was a watershed moment in my career. I promised to complete the book within six months without having a true understanding of what was involved. In 2001, the entire system of nineteen hospitals had won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, becoming the first health care institution in the country to be so honored.

When I began, I knew nothing about this hospital system; its twenty-year quest for quality; the Baldrige award; or the CEO, a nun, who was to be the author. I had six months to learn everything and write the book. Until that moment, the most challenging projects I had undertaken were corporate annual reports and books about subjects with which I was already familiar. This was a whole new ball game.

I would need many more chapters to describe the scope of the research, the hours of interviews, the organizational challenge, the editing process, and the amazing education I received. I had been insane to think it could be researched and written in six months. Nine would have been more realistic, twelve even better. The process was, on one hand, grueling and, on the other, exhilarating. I made the deadline, but we all realized the book needed more—more stories, more humor, more institutional memory. Essentially, I had built the foundation; those who had been there from the beginning would have to build the house.

As always, when a big project ended, I felt like a deflated hot air balloon. I thrived on the writing; having written was a letdown. I knew that from my own books. Much like running a race and stopping with no cool-down period, my mental muscles cramped.

Around this time, I met a young woman who would come to play a major role in the development of my business. Bobette was a marketing guru who had been a panelist at the St. Louis Publishers Association meeting. She looked at my Web site and asked, “What is it you do? You can’t possibly do everything.” During all the years I had been in business, I had been a generalist—someone who could write about anything for anyone in any format. No wonder no one knew what I did. I had positioned myself as a writer who did whatever a company needed. Now, I had to commit myself to one, possibly two, areas of specialization. She suggested I scrap my entire site and start over.

Finding someone to design and develop a Web site had proven to be an expensive nightmare over the years, and this time was no exception. I finally decided to do it myself, an interesting decision since I didn’t understand HTML code or Web design. Undaunted, I plunged in anyway. Fortunately, Bobette did know HTML and worked behind the scenes to correct my mistakes.

I bought her basic marketing package, which forced me to clarify my overall business goal and the three strategies I would pursue to achieve it. Based on my single experience as a ghostwriter, that was the area I chose. Then, I set about becoming one. To that strategy, I added book-writing coach and editor. My Web site now had a focus, and I had a new job description.

Despite getting a late start, with Bobette’s guidance, I tried to become Web savvy. What a truly eye-opening experience that effort turned out to be. Where had I been all this time while others were surfing and communicating and creating their Internet presence? Cyberspace was the best of all possible worlds; I was instantly hooked. I launched my new site, became listed in directories and search engines, wrote articles, and let the world know where to find me.


Ghostwriting is not a career for the faint of heart. When I decided to become a ghostwriter, I was quite naive. I had been writing professionally for close to four decades and freelancing for most of that time. I had writ­ten 12 nonfiction books on a range of topics. I had developed a workbook and taught many people how to write nonfiction books. I had even written the first edition of this book, So, You Want To Be A Ghostwriter? I thought I knew the score. Boy, was I wrong.”

2008 • The Invisible Author

More as a result of a personal referral than my sparkling presence on the Internet, I received another request to ghostwrite a book. This one was on a topic I knew something about, which augured well for success. The author presented training programs to executives and thought nothing of dropping in from across the country for a daylong meeting. We drew up a contract, created a plan, and began.

My second attempt at ghostwriting was almost enough to make me change my game plan. The number of drafts per chapter grew beyond reason; the agreed-upon schedule flew out the window; six months turned into nine. The client paid me the amended fee for services, and I sent him the book files. To my knowledge, he neither read the completed manuscript nor did anything with it. As far as I could discern, he just abandoned the whole idea. Our agreement was, if he ever published the book, my name had to be on the cover. From time to time, I checked his Web site and found no evidence of a book.

Walking away from a finished book is not as unusual as one might believe. At least, that client paid me. Another one walked away from the bill, as well as the book. A contract means little if it can’t be enforced. Small claims court is frustrating and costly. First, you have to pay the sheriff to serve the summons. Then, the sheriff has to find the defendant. That doesn’t always happen. Next, the plaintiff and the defendant both have to appear in court. That doesn’t always happen, either. I was shocked to learn, even if I won the case, the court had no means of enforcing its own verdict. the injured party is responsible collecting the money. One thing I know: I will never again sue someone in small claims court.

Ghostwriting is expensive. Most individuals can’t afford to hire a ghostwriter; and I had not yet returned to the corporate well. So, much of my new identity was as a book coach and editor. Editing frequently turned into a total rewrite, which more accurately fit in the ghostwriting category. I leaned the hard way to determine up front whether a manuscript needs a bandage or major surgery.

In between learning all of these valuable lessons, I was still teaching and finding that several students needed help after the six-week continuing education class. If they hired me as a coach or editor, I gave them a hefty discount because they had been my students. It was a perfect win-win situation. The more I taught and coached, the more material I added to my workbook, which was shrinking in dimensions but growing in the number of pages. The most recent edition, the fifth, is up to 119.


“Marketing is a frequently misunderstood term because it has so many totally different interpretations. I checked six online and print sources, and found six different definitions. Most of them were wordy and overly complicated, yet still managed to miss the point. OK. I'll admit it; that's harsh. But nothing I found was of much help in terms of marketing my business. So, here is my definition:

Marketing is identifying a need in the market I serve and communicating to potential clients or customers how my products or services will meet that need.”

2009 • News & Views

For all the years I had been on my own, successful entrepreneurs had counseled me to market, market, market. I knew they were right. I knew marketing spelled the difference between filling the pipeline and running out of work. I knew I should be marketing regularly, but I had a thousand excuses for not doing it at all. Though I could instruct my clients on how to market their businesses, I didn’t seem to know how to market my own.

Having a knowledgeable professional to advise me on the subject made all the difference. My Web site and the other activities I engaged in to augment it—social networking, a newsletter, online articles, Amazon, and two blogs—were producing results. People found me online and e-mailed. They subscribed to my newsletter, commented on my blogs, connected to me on FaceBook and LinkedIn, signed up for my classes, bought my books, and, best of all, hired me.

Such is the power of Web 2.0—the name for how tech-savvy people connect and relate to each other in the twenty-first century. I was a late adopter but an enthusiastic one. Technology just keeps on changing, and I have to keep on changing right along with it or I will become a dinosaur.

Chapter 10 • 2001-2005 • The Bottom Drops Out

What goes up must come down. The high I had been on since the beginning of 1989 proved that Newton’s law of gravity applied to business as well as heavenly bodies in space. In 1998 when my favorite and most dependable client found itself in a corporate merger situation. As my former colleagues were picking up the pieces of their shattered plans, I was very much on the outside looking in. I knew they were grieving for a vision that would never be realized and a president who was about to be replaced. I was also grieving—for the same president, whom I liked and respected, for my best source of income, and for the feeling of being part of something meaningful and important.

The process took six months. When the dust settled, the VP of communications invited me back to work on a project. What I found was a changed organization. If an entire executive management team could be in state of depression, this one was. I would say the entire company, but most people had no idea of what had transpired. Even the next level of management was in the dark. The program we had been about to unveil was never announced. While most people knew the company was joining ranks with another industry giant, that’s all they knew. When two corporations merge, one set of executives has to go. Along with the president, who had spent many years working his way up through the organization, many other veterans of the business became casualties of the closed-door negotiations.

There’s an old saying, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” But when the lives and careers of good people are upended in a business deal, it feels very personal to them. I was devastated, but I was also wiser. I had been living in a kind of la-la land where everybody loved me and appreciated my work. I thought this mutual admiration society would go on forever. This experience taught me that nothing goes on forever.

My status with the company became much less secure. I had worked with three prior presidents who shared many leadership characteristics and with whom I felt a real connection. The new president had a different management style. Suffice to say, we didn’t connect. In such situation, the freelancer is the one who leaves.

The permanent loss of this client would have been bad enough if it had been an isolated event. But at the beginning of 2001, the economy experienced a serious downturn, and the bottom fell out of my little business. It was as if all of my clients assessed the situation, pushed the panic button, and fired all of their consultants (as freelancers had come to be called). There was no warning, at least in my case. One day I was working; the next day I was not. In addition to the client that had morphed into a new company, another one I had been associated with for sixteen years simply stopped calling. No goodbye. No announcement. No explanation.

To say 2001 had begun badly would be an understatement. The year was so bad, I don’t remember most of it … until September 11. If I was in a trance before, the events of September 11 threw me into a tailspin of shock and depression. Everywhere I looked, people were in the same shape. Americans were the walking wounded. In 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was four years old. So, nothing in my memory was as horrifying as the images that assailed me day after day on TV. It seemed a tragedy without end.

The world as we knew it began to change immediately. I cannot think of any area of life or the economy unaffected by the events of that day. Nine years later, we are still feeling the reverberations. For me, everything came to a screeching halt. I had no work, no clients, and no plan. It would be months before I emerged from the haze long enough to realize the seriousness of my situation. I was not alone. I knew others who were in the same boat, but that was hardly comforting.


“As in any new relationship, we begin by learning. We want to know about your business, your people, and, especially, your vision. You want to know how creative, yet pragmatic, and how experienced, yet innovative, we are. We both want to know how well we would work together, how responsive we will be to each other’s ideas, ad how we can be certain that the ultimate product satisfies and delights you. Our job is to identify the problem and work toward a solution. The better we can define the problem, the better our solution will be. But we cannot do that alone. We need you.”

2001 • Corporate Brochure

What does one do when her only source of income ceases to exist? For almost a year, I had seen the demand for my services dry up, and the situation was not likely to change in the present economic climate. I was in trouble. Back in 1989, when I began this little venture, I told myself, if it didn't work out, I could always get a job. Thirteen years had passed. Somehow, I doubted I could simply update my resume and find a position as director of communications somewhere is corporate America. I had only one option: I would have to start over, from scratch.

I don’t want to give the impression that I immediately sat down and mapped out a brilliant plan for my future. I did sit down but mostly stared into space. It is one thing to know I had to start over; it was quite another to do it. To be honest, I don’t remember the process except it took a long time to get from point A to point B. My only nonnegotiable criterion was that whatever I did had to involve writing.

An opportunity presented itself (am I lucky, or what?), though I had no idea how it might fit into my new life. A friend of mine, who had been teaching a noncredit course at the community college for years, decided to retire. He suggested I take over his class on how to write and publish a book. The school was delighted, since it didn’t have a handy replacement; I was delighted since I was immobilized by indecision. My friend sent me all of his teaching materials and handouts, most of which were filled with information I didn’t feel qualified to teach. Since I was already committed, I redesigned the course and with great trepidation taught my first class.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess I was not magnificent. But I was hooked. I loved teaching! I remember two things vividly: I was so nervous, I read most of my lesson plans aloud, instead of just talking to the class; and I had such a terrible cold, I could barely speak above a whisper. Neither seemed to matter. My students were satisfied, and I was euphoric.

The class needed improvement and some serious marketing if I wanted to make any money. The community college paid $20 a teaching hour or $240 for six classes. I had spent so many hours planning and preparing for each class, I ended up losing money. And I still had no other source of income. Essentially, I was living on air (otherwise known as meager savings). I thought I could market the program to professional speakers and offered two of my friends a deal. I would help them write their books if they would help me polish my course. We both learned a lot. I learned that speakers don’t think like writers, so most of the time we were talking in two different languages. They learned that they didn’t want to write the books they thought they wanted to write and changed course in midstream.


“Professional speakers are often asked if they will be selling their books in the back of the room after their presentations. A product — be it a book or CD — enhances their credibility and commands higher speaking fees. Business leaders, subject-matter experts, humorists, psychologists, and diet gurus are all expected to share their knowledge in book form. High-profile CEOs often write books to pass along their business philosophies and practices to the next generation of leaders in their organizations; to articulate to significant stakeholders their personal visions for their companies; or to apply the hard-won lessons of their lives to the broader context of business, society, academia, or government. Whoever you are and whatever your motivation, when you are asked whether you have a book out or in the works, if the answer is “No, not yet,” what’s holding you back?

2004 • How to Write a Nonfiction Book:

From Concept to Completion in 6 Months

Despite the bumpy road, somehow I emerged with a much-improved plan; and they wrote two great books. I would love to take credit for their finished products, but I don’t feel I played that big a role in their achievement. Somewhere along the way, both of my friends went off on their own while I continued to polish my program. I finally decided I needed a workbook to bring it all together. How to Write a Nonfiction Book: From Concept to Completion in 6 Months was published in 2004.

The next phase of my personal reinvention was off to a great start.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter 9 • 1990 • Going Solo

Being fired has a certain air of finality. Friday afternoon was the end of one life; Monday morning was the beginning of another. In between, I had reorganized the little room I used for my home office and prepared to test the job market. Despite my best intentions to think before I took any precipitous actions, old habits die hard. In the past, when I was out of a job, I had to find another one immediately. This time, I could afford to take a break, but I had not yet made the mental adjustment to my new reality.

As I thumbed through my Rolodex, I had doubts. One was that no one would remember me; the other was, to find a job at my level, someone would have to die. No one I knew was going to quit a perfectly good job unless they found an even better one, and I doubted there were many of them out there.

I made three discoveries almost immediately. People did remember me, very well in fact. I had been cloistered for ten years. I was amazed at how my peers out in the communications community had kept up with my career. More than one could recite my resume. The second discovery was that while there was a dearth of jobs, there were plenty of freelance projects just waiting for the right writers. Several people told me they would be thrilled to hire me as a freelancer whenever I was ready to start. I had been buried in the corporate catacombs for a long time, which to my mind was akin to being invisible. Not so, it seemed. An aha moment for me—the first of many.

The biggest realization of all was that there was a thriving freelance network functioning just below the radar, and the writers in that network were earning good money! I had been oblivious, but now a whole new set of possibilities presented themselves. What if I couldn’t find a job or decided not to continue looking for a job? Could I earn a living as a full-time, independently employed writer? I had no idea, but since I wasn’t getting anywhere with the job-hunting, freelancing seemed worth investigating.

I put on my researcher’s hat and changed my approach. I asked corporate communications and public relations executives if they hired freelancers and what kind of projects they were outsourcing. I asked writers if they were finding work, who was hiring them, and what was the going hourly rate. It was an eye-opening exercise.

I have a foolproof process for making decisions. I learned it years ago from a book called Psychocybernetics by Matthew Maltz. The short version is to consciously review every detail of the subject—pro and con—until I am on information overload. Maltz called this “feeding the computer” (the subconscious mind) long before computers became part of our daily lives. The key is not to beat the computer to the answer by thinking myself blue in the face, but rather to just walk away and forget about the problem. In the beginning, that was very hard to do.

Now that we know more about how computers work, the process makes more sense than it did in 1970 when I first read about it. Then, it was more an act of faith. What matters is that it works … every time. In the middle of thinking, or not thinking, about what to do with the rest of my life, I tested the theory by taking a vacation. It was out of character, under the circumstances, but when I got home, my decision had made itself. I was going to start my own freelance business.

I had no idea what it meant to “start a business.” I figured I would need an accountant and was lucky to find a wonderful guy who had only recently hung out his own shingle. He taught me the basics: open a separate checking account, keep track of time, income, and expenses, file all receipts, decide on an hourly rate, send out invoices, get everything in writing, save for taxes. Some I absorbed; some went right over my head. But at the end of every month, I turned in my numbers, and he did whatever accountants do and met with me to be sure I was on track.

The tough part of freelancing is supposed to be finding work. Rule number one is always fill the pipeline, so that when you finish a project, another one is waiting in the wings. For a long time through very little effort on my part, the jobs kept coming. I worked on an assignment, finished it, and received my lofty fee of $60 an hour. Then, another job would fall in my lap. So, I had work; I made money; I did all the things my accountant told me do; and I was happy as a clam, oblivious to what it meant to be “in business.”


“A good manager wears many hats: innovator, leader, planner, organizer, liaison between staff and higher levels of management, steward of resources, productivity booster, and developer of people. The latter two roles are the foundation of proficient management, which is, by definition, the ability to meet organization goals through and in concert with others. Over the years, tens of thousands of words have been written about the best methods and techniques for increasing productivity. Management literature has explored everything from the militaristic model to quality circles and self-managing teams. But recent literature has focused more and more on the importance of helping employees grow and develop on the job.”

1992 • Trainer’s Workshop

Years later that I read another little book called The E-Myth Revisited, I understood my mistake. I had what the author David E. Gerber called an “entrepreneurial seizure.” I assumed if I could write for someone else who would pay me, I could write for myself. That is the E Myth. The most important message in the book was this: Running a successful small business takes three people, or one person who can wear three hats: a technician, who creates something; a manager, who runs the office; and a marketer, who has big ideas and grows the business. I was a writer—a technician. Either I had to become a manager and a marketer or hire them. But I didn’t know that then, and even if I had, I had neither time nor money to fill the other two crucial roles.

If I had it to do again, I would sign up for a business course. Instead, I just kept on being a technician, never suspecting there was a better way. Somehow, I did OK for several years—OK meaning grossing about $50,000 a year in writing fees—sometimes less, sometimes more. Those were the good years; there were some not-very-good years in there.

When I glance across my office at the five shelves of binders filled with writing samples, I am amazed at the variety and volume of work I did during those first few years. Corporations were hiring freelance writers for anything that contained words—newsletters, articles, brochures, annual reports, training manuals, corporate identity, executive speeches, audio-visual training, employee benefits programs, and later Internet and intranet websites—a virtual candy store full of tempting assignments.

I didn’t know this wasn’t the way to run proper business. Whatever I was doing seemed to be working fine. Once again, I was meeting and interviewing executives. I was learning about industries as diverse as oil refining, hospitals, machine manufacturing, paperboard packaging, and industrial real estate. I was hiring photographers and designers and acting as liaison between them and company management.

Sometimes, the jobs dried up and disappeared. Corporations with huge magazine budgets moved to other cities, pulled the work inside, or decided they no longer needed magazines at all. Large training or advertising projects were completed and didn’t lead to follow up work. Managers changed jobs and brought in their own people. With each change, I adjusted and reinvented myself, like an actor who had to keep auditioning for and learning new roles.


“What do the waistline and the bottom line share? You may be surprised to learn that both are affected by what and how much your employees eat. Chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure and loss of muscular flexibility, can drive up lost-time and medical costs not only for older workers but for younger ones, as well. The reason is obesity. A recent study by the Rand Corporation indicates that obesity can significantly raise health care and medication costs for overweight people, as well as costs for other health problems, such as smoking. The study notes that some younger people are showing sings of premature aging because they are carrying excess weight that has the same effect as an additional 20 years on the their lives. In fact, the problems usually associated with aging are caused by the body working harder to perform its usual functions. A wellness program could help your workers achieve and maintain healthy weights and improve their overall lifestyles.”

Winter 2003 • Health & Safety News

Two major corporations remained my best clients for many years. For one, I wrote award brochures, training manuals, and a long-running safety newsletter. For the other, I wrote speeches for three CEOs and various other executives, a mission statement and new strategic direction, annual reports, and marketing materials for various divisions. In this best of all possible worlds, I was an insider, an ex-officio member of the senior management team. I knew what was happening behind closed doors long before most managers and employees did.

My unique position allowed me to witness the end of an era. The executive management team was on the verge of announcing a major change in the company’s operational philosophy. It was big, it was important, and it was gutsy. Our team had been working on the rollout for months. Less than a week before the official event, I was called in to a management meeting in the CEO’s office. Everyone looked as if they were about to attend a funeral. Something had died. That was obvious. In a heartbeat, everything we had been planning was off the table. The company the CEO had hoped to create would never come to be.

Some changes take place gradually; others blow people away with no warning. This was the latter kind. According to that morning’s Wall Street Journal, the company had entered into “merger talks.” Those two words—merger talks—hit the team like a bomb, upending plans, wrecking careers, and sending those of us in the room into a state of shock and grief. I was no longer a member of the inner circle. There was no inner circle, anymore.