Apostrophes, sources, and misspellings…oh my!

3 Apr

I’m teaching a newswriting class this semester at a local university, and I’m struck by some issues that almost every one of my students seem to have.


  • Like to misplace apostrophes.
  • Don’t watch enough news to know what’s going on in the world.
  • Strangely like to capitalize the wrong words, and fail to capitalize the correct ones.
  • Seem confused by who, whom; wrack, rack; compose, comprise.
  • Also don’t approve of citing sources when using quotes.

But, for their part, they do:

  • Have a lot of creativity.
  • Have a lot of fun ideas.
  • Give it their best shot.
  • Make changes when corrected and challenged.
  • Always come to class and participate.

Which goes to show:

  • Effort is a big part of the battle.
  • Interest, passion, and creativity will overcome a bunch of other issues.
  • We have missed the boat on apostrophes and capitalization. (How HARD is that to teach before kids get to college?)



A Birthday Poem

30 Mar

(On the occasion of my sweet daughter McKenna’s 25th birthday. Time flies by oh-so-quickly, doesn’t it?)

I carry a photo in my mind
of a dainty little girl,
blue eyes sparkling,
wild blonde hair flying in the wind,
chasing a butterfly,
talking to a fairy,
whispering to the moon.
A mischievous impish
clutching my finger,
holding my hand,
resting her head on my shoulder,
falling into sleep,
fluttering her eyes,
dreaming daydreams, night dreams, big dreams.
The minutes passed.
The hours,
the days,
the years
She now holds her own
little, impish, dreaming daughters.
They grasp her hands,
hold her heart,
and the photo in my mind
fills my soul with
gratitude for the time, so fleeting,
that I had with that little girl.


Image 4 Jan

7 Tips for Writing in the New Year

1 Jan

As the holiday season comes to a close, thoughts often turn to plans for the new year. Well-intentioned men and women everywhere vow to lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, and be a better spouse (parent, employee, boss, student, etc.).

What if, this year, you made a goal to stop making such ordinary goals and instead make a real difference in your writing life? It’s something I’ve been doing for several years now and it has really affected my creativity, output, and productivity.

Consider making the following resolutions this year:

(1) Make Writing a Priority

Do you spend enough time on your writing? Do you devote energy to writing, just as you do for the other serious pursuits in your life? If you don’t, then you need to make a change in 2002.

Start by locating time in your schedule that can be devoted specifically to writing, then dedicate yourself to doing just that. Pick a specific time (Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9:oo p.m., for example) and place for your writing pursuits.

If you already spend time writing, make a goal of increasing that time this year. Make writing even more of a priority.

(2) Deal with Obstacles

What keeps most people from writing? Chances are it’s the many obstacles that get thrown in our way (or that we create on our own)–things like distractions, writers block, and lack of support from people around us.

Resolve this year to not let these kinds of obstacles get in your way. Recognize what these roadblocks are in your life and then find constructive ways of dealing with them.

(3) Have a Brainstorming Session

In the South, we have the tradition of eating Hoppin John (a wonderful black-eyed pea concoction) and watching as much football as possible on New Year’s Day. My just-as-important New Year’s writing tradition is my annual brainstorming session.

On New Year’s Day or the day after, I get out a pen and notebook (my computer just doesn’t seem to work well for this) and brainstorm ideas for magazine articles for the rest of the year. I write a different month on a different sheet of paper and then brainstorm ideas appropriate to each month; I then try and locate markets for each of the ideas and determine when during the year they’d need to receive my appropriate query letters.

This same approach can work with different types of writing. Do you write short fiction? brainstorm different ideas for short stories. Do you write for the Web? brainstorm various ideas for web articles.

(4) Break into New Markets

Do you keep sending your articles, poems, short stories, or essays to the same publications? Do you find yourself working with the same clients time and time again? It may be time to expand your horizons!

You want to keep relying on those markets that have been successful for you in the past, but you also want to break into new ones. The new year is the perfect time to do this.

Since I write for magazines and newspapers, I consider the publications that I’d like to be published in during the next year–even if they seem out of my reach. Then I make realistic plans for having success with those markets.

(5) Be Professional

I firmly believe that professionalism is one of the major keys to success in the writing field today. You must devote yourself to being a professional in every aspect of your writing life and business. Some of the ways you do that include: submitting to editors in the proper way, checking for basic spelling and grammar mistake, being accurate in your research, being courteous toward sources and editors, meeting deadlines, treating your writing like a business, and submitting as near-to-perfect manuscripts as possible.

None of us are perfect, but we can all strive to be professional. If you don’t make that a priority at the current time, then the new year is the ideal time to start doing so.

(6) Learn Something New

One of the most dangerous traps we can get into as writers is believing we cannot improve or thinking we know all we need to know about the writing and publishing process. How far from the truth that is!

Resolve this year to become more educated about the writing life and process. Learn something new as often as you can.

How can you do that? There are a multitude of ways–read books about writing, subscribe to writing magazines, take an online writing course, join a writing group, find a writing mentor, attending a writing conference.

(7) Believe in Yourself

At writing conferences, in writing classes, and in casual conversations with aspiring writers I have heard the same complaint over and over again: “I just don’t think I can do it,” students and writing wannabes will tell me. For some reason or another, they don’t believe they can achieve any writing success. They find excuses to believe they can’t succeed (whether it’s fear of failure, procrastination, or lack of time). They don’t believe in themselves!

Success, however, is very much tied to our belief in ourselves. It is essential to believe in your abilities, create opportunities for success, and to aspire to greater things than you’re experiencing right now.

What is holding you back this year? Determine what it is and then determine to defeat it!

All of these seven resolutions are wonderful ones to personalize in your own life this year. And you may find that there are other resolutions that apply even better to your situation. What’s important is this: that you resolve to become a better writer in the new year!

(This article originally appeared in “Writing for Dollars.”)

All I Want for Christmas…

19 Dec

A vintage typewriter.

A writing getaway to the beach.

New pens.

New notebooks.

Time with writing friends.

Plenty of “alone time” with myself.

A podcast, a website, all the tools I need for success.

Tickets to a writing conference.

A check for my writing.

A bestselling novel!



I Get to Tell People’s Stories

28 Jun

My 13-year-old daughter recently had a pretty good epiphany about my work as a writer.

After hearing about my work day involving the opportunity to interview and write about some really interesting people, Sydney said: “Your work is just you talking to people. It’s what you already do best.”


The best part about being a writer is the opportunity to tell people’s stories.

A few weeks ago (before going out West on a wonderful vacation, which has taken my attention for the last 15 days or so),  I was the sole reporter for a pretty cool sporting event in our city.

The Senior Games brought more than 10,000 athletes over 50 years of age to Birmingham, and I got the opportunity to interview a bunch of the inspiring men and women–and to tell their stories.

Here’s a sampling of some of the stories I got to share.

There was the blind swimmer who, at 70, competed in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter races. She told me: “You can do whatever you set your mind to.”


Then there was 101-year-old Julia Hawkins, who ran AND cycled at the Games.


There was 103-year-old John Zilverberg (the oldest athlete in Birmingham) who took home five medals.


And the swimmer who was a gold medalist years before in the Olympics, and now helps veterans with PTSD.


And the 86-year-old bowler who had also run in 26 marathons.


There was also Pat Boone (yes, THAT Pat Boone), who not only sang at the Games but also played basketball.


And there was my favorite story of all.

I had the privilege of meeting the very first woman to ever run in the Boston Marathon. When she first did it–back in 1967–she was almost forced off the course by angry men who didn’t want a female runner to compete with them. She’s an icon of female empowerment, and shares her story and inspiration around the world.


Being a writer is grand.

I get to meet so many people every single day who teach me more about about the human experience than I would have ever known otherwise.

It’s a great way to make a living.


Some pictures from the 2017 SCWC

10 Jun

The 2017 Southern Christian Writers Conference is in the history books.

But we have pictures to help us remember the awesome time we had.

Check some of them out:

The conference was a wonderful success, and we can’t thank all of the speakers and attendees enough for making it a weekend to remember.