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Word For Word

February 22, 2008

Rewind to the 1950s.  Walk into any child’s bedroom...any child, that is, who was a reader.  On her book shelf, there was undoubtedly at least one book—and probably many more—from the popular series “Childhood of Famous Americans Series” published by Indianapolis-based Bobbs-Merrill Company.

 Stop and browse for a moment.  You’ll see quaint titles, such as:  Rachel Jackson: Tennessee Girl, Jane Addams: Little Lame Girl Narcissa Whitman: Pioneer Girl, Daniel Boone: Boy Hunter, George Carver: Boy Scientist, Booker T. Washington:  Ambitious Boy (Even though this was the unenlightened ‘50s, there was nothing racist or sexist about the titles—everyone profiled was either a boy or a girl in the subtitle, which was how they related to their young readers).  Anyone who’s now over the age of 50 probably remembers these 6x8” hard-bound books that ran about 200 pages and whose only artwork was done in pitch-black silhouettes every ten pages or so. 

 Jim Bowie:  Boy with a Hunting Knife  was one such book on my shelf.  The dust cover showed a fierce lad, knife drawn, facing an open-mouthed crocodile in some God-forsaken swamp.  I would leaf through the pages rather than read them because I was four years old and couldn’t yet read.  What I could do, though, was match the letters on the page with the letters on the keys of my mom’s olive-green Royal typewriter.  And when I ask her to thread a gleaming-white piece of typing paper around the rollers so I could “write,” she gladly obliged.  It probably took me a week or so, but eventually I had typed the entire first chapter...literally letter by letter. 

 And, without realizing it, I had also started the skill—although admittedly in its rudimentary stage—known as Typing. 

 By the time I was 16, a sophomore in high school and enrolled in Miss June Campbell’s typing class at Madison High School, I was leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else.  Oh sure, I still had to learn about centering and margins and carbons and what-have-you, but locating the letters?  Duck soup.  Switching every six weeks between the manuals and the electrics?  No sweat.  I knew every letter, every number and every punctuation mark that was on the keyboard.  They were all old friends beneath my fingertips. 

 And who had taught me how to type?  I had taught myself to type.

 Now it’s 1979.  I’m in a different city—Pittsburgh—and outside of work, I don’t have many friends.  I decide I need to keep my hands busy and take up a craft I saw my Grandma Lujzda do almost daily...crocheting.  As a hot shot college graduate in the early 1970s, crocheting seemed like something out of Victorian England, something so uncool as to be nauseating.  As I approach 30, however, I decide I need a link—however tenuous—with the past.  So, I “take up” crocheting.

 Now, to the uninitiated, a crocheting pattern is akin to a hodge-podge of abbreviations with totally undecipherable specifications.  Example:  Ch 5, sl st in beg ch to form a lp.  Ch 1, work 12 sc in lp.  YO and end with sl st in 1st sc.  Ch 8, sk 2 sc, sl st into 3rd sc 3 times.  Ch.1, sc, hdc, dc, 10 tr, dc , hds, sc in all four ch-10 lps.  End with a sl st in beg.

Got it?

 Well, at first I not only didn’t “got it,” I thought I had embarked upon a foreign language, not to mention trying to figure out with exactly constituted a single, half-double, double or triple crocheting loop.   I remembered that while my Grandma Lujzda could crochet, she couldn’t read crocheting directions and relied on women who did, to show her the patterns, which she’d then memorize. 

I decided to take it one step further and struggled...struggled to not only learn (by pictographs) how to do the stitches, but to decipher the coding of the directions.  I signed up for a 10-week crocheting class and to my total surprise, I was doing all the loops correctly.  I polished my slip stitch and I learned the afghan stitch in class...but the rudimentary “ins and outs” of the yarn—I’d already conquered those. 

 And who had taught me how to crochet?  I had taught myself to crochet.

The extent of my card playing as a child had been War...and 52 Pick-Up.  Games such as Canasta, Euchre, Hearts, Pinochle, Poker, Bridge, Casino, Gin Rummy...these were all muddled in my mind as things involving red and black symbols, numbers from two to ten, faces and aces.  I knew a ten was higher than a two and a king beat a queen (so what else is new?), but terms such as trump, suit, bower or my favorite of all time...inkle...left me speechless.  Literally.  For someone who had to think twice before distinguishing a spade from a club, the world of 52 didn’t come easily. 

Because so many of my friends were so passionate about cards, I decided to pick a game and learn it.  I had a computer program called Hoyle and chose Hearts.  I was in real foreign territory, but in the privacy of my room alone with my computer, I could start over and over and over to my Heart’s (!) content.  While the computer players annoyed and frustrated me (they won a lot more than they lost), I could get my revenge by shutting them down whenever I chose.  More to the point, within a month, I was an Ace (!) Hearts player.  And once I’d mastered Hearts, it was a small leap to Spades, Euchre and many other card games.

And who had taught me the fundamentals of cards?  I had taught myself the basic card-playing skills.

 Now it’s February 1986.  I have two children and I’m an entrenched, full-time, stay-at-home Mom.  The internet is but a gleam in a few nerds’ eyes.  My Smith-Corona Selectric is setting in my living room and I’m flipping through a catalogue that contains greeting cards.  I buy greeting cards; I send them.  I enjoy receiving them.  But I’ve never thought about supplying verses for them.

 I see some cards in a line entitled “Quips.”  I read them.  A light bulb moment.  I not only CAN do this; I WILL do this.  I probably make every mistake there is to make and yet...and yet, after three months, I sell my very first verse.   It’s a Halloween verse and I’m paid $15 for it.

 It’s been said “ignorance is bliss” and I’m the perfect definition of the phrase.  I’m in seventh heaven with my first sale and I’m so ignorant of what it takes to be a real greeting card writer, it’s pathetically laughable.  I stumble.  I fall.  I get envelope upon envelope returned in the mail.  No sale.  No sale.  No sale.

 I continue to learn.  Once in awhile the phone rings and once in awhile it’s an editor on the other end.  I start to get assignments.  I break into the big league—accidentally—by selling a verse from my very first batch to Gibson Greetings in Cincinnati, at the time the third largest greeting card company (and the oldest) in America.  I write a course outline and start to teach a non-credit course at my local Community College that after its very first semester is rated Occupational instead of simply Recreational—meaning 2/3 of the tuition is picked up by the county and the state.  I’m interviewed.  I write a book.  I’m invited to go on NBC-TV. I make the cover of Parade Magazine. 

etc. etc. etc.

And who taught me how to write greeting cards?  Yes, you know the answer.

 Education is a wonderful thing...and self-education is an even more wonderful thing.  You can and should learn from others by all means.  But those entities in life where you, yourself, make the initial inroads and then build on that foundation—well, I am here to tell you that those entities are the sweetest, the most fulfilling and the proudest you’ll ever experience.  When you start from literally nothing and by struggle and perseverance, you teach yourself...going around and through obstacles, following up and following through, discovering your own personal truths based on your experience and no one else’s...well, you have an assurance and a confidence and above all, a wellspring of pride that no one can ever take from you. 

 Learn from others, yes.  And don’t forget to include yourself in the collective term...others.

 And that’s my Word For Word.

 First, I want to thank everyone who wrote regarding my previous Word For Word—the one about the abysmal spelling errors in the scrolling ticker of a major news network.  I must have touched a nerve on that one because everyone who wrote agreed and told me they, too, had witnessed ongoing errors not only on TV, but in newspapers, magazines and all sorts of ads.  I can only reiterate that if you find such errors, document them and when they reach epidemic status, let the offending publication or network know (and cite the specific errors involved with dates).  If no one protests, the status quo will continue—and it will certainly get even worse.  Thanks for your supportive, interesting emails!

 Personal challenges combined with professional opportunities have been a big part of my life this past month.  However, for whatever reason, I seem to have not only absorbed them, but have benefited from them.  I’ve added several new companies to my consulting list, even from my last Word For Word and have been working closely with them to establish their concrete identity and an exciting creative vision for the future.

 I’m deciding on a cover for my new greeting card writing book and based on some outside input will go with a coil binding, rather than the perfect-bound book of the past.  I found that most readers of Write Well & Sell: Greeting Cards made notes in the margins, highlighted passages and in general, treated the book as a learning manual rather than a “sacred text”—and this thrilled me beyond words.   As I noted in my introduction, my book is meant as a “take-a-long text”—to be used, thumbed through, earmarked and dog-eared—to be used and yes, even abused!  So, even though it may not “look” as perfect as the original “perfect-bound” book, it will lay flat, the binding won’t break, the pages won’t fall out unless they’re ripped out and all in all, even though more expensive to print, the book will be much more satisfactory to use and learn from.

 My online classes at www.writerscollege.com and www.absolutewrite.com are both going strong and with the start date of each class being the convenient “Monday After” a student registers, brings a few new students each week.  The one-on-one attention and feedback is something students marvel at;  it’s the best of both worlds—learning at home and still getting individual attention.

 Spring, which is only five weeks away, means a glut of writing conferences and I’ve been invited to speak at “A Writing Retreat: In The Company of Women VIII” founded by author Doris Larson.  The retreat runs from April 18-20th (2008) and is being held at beautiful Punderson Manor Resort in Newbury, Ohio.  Check out the website:  www.bigwits.com and click on Women Writers Retreat where you can see the various workshops and presenters, plus how to register.  The deadline for registration, by the way, is March 1, just a week away.  (Yikes!)

 Although I won’t be speaking at this writer’s conference in 2008 due to the scheduling conflict with the conference above, another excellent place to hone your writing skills is the Stoneboro Writer’s Conference in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  It is a one-day writer’s conference where I’ve conducted workshops for the past two years.  Down-to-earth, friendly and extremely nurturing, writers in all stages of their writing careers are welcome.  Deadline for registration is April 1, 2008 and to get more details about the conference, click on the following link: 

http://www.gloriaclover.com/onedayconference.html

 I’d like to remind you again that I personally read all your emails and take much joy in learning about your writing, your background and your aspirations.  I thank you for placing so much confidence in my advice and observations.  Sometimes my Outlook Express takes on a mind of its own and won’t send my messages.  Other times, my Satellite Dish decides to take a hiatus, especially when our mountain climate gets windy, icy or just plain yucky.  That’s when I can’t get on the internet and decide instead to read (another thing I’ve taught myself—close one book, open the next one!) or watch a Susan Hayward film.  Coming into spring, I’ll be less internet-challenged than the past few months since we’ll be less climate challenged, even in southern Somerset County.

 Please continue to order from our affiliates whenever possible—we’re in the process of updating all links—since the dividends we receive go right back into the site.  I still plan to feature an affiliate of the month because the varied products they offer are so worthwhile.

 February is almost over and March awaits us.  While the kids are still in school and the ground is still too frozen to dig in, the keyboard should call. 

 I expect you to answer its invitation.  Here’s to pleasant times tapping out words.

 Sandra

 
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