Filling the Praise Reservoir

As a teacher and freelance writer, I’m no stranger to criticism. In fact, I welcome a well-thought- out revision from an editor or insightful comment from a student that really shows they’ve paid attention and want to make you and your work better in the future.

But as the semester and calendar year come to a close, I always make time to refill my own praise reservoir for the dark days when students seem to be putting in exponentially less effort than I and the freelance assignments are few and far between. I review and save any appreciative emails from students and editors and carefully file the rare handwritten card in its own special folder. Refilling the reservoir also means reading unflattering emails editors may have sent on a bad day in the last six months and revisiting the last round of end-of-semester evaluations that slammed the textbook I didn’t choose myself or picked apart my Southern accent as “just too much” before deleting them for good.

Criticism can contain valuable nuggets of advice to help guide improvement, but it never seems in short supply. However, it’s not every day you get a sketch from a student that depicts you single-handedly pulling a soda truck to its destination, so I’d certainly save those when they come along.


An overdue visit to Gratitude Road

This piece from The New York Times had some interesting ideas to help us express gratitude. It inspired this letter, which I unfortunately can’t deliver to its addressee. I hope it encourages some readers to write — and actually deliver — one of their own while they have the opportunity.

Dear Ernie,

I came to visit today to share this letter with you. I could have mailed it, but I wanted to tell you in person how grateful I am that you are my mentor and friend.

You were one of my first bosses and will always be my best. When I started working at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s business desk, I called you Mr. Beazley, even though I knew it was old fashioned, because I already respected you so much.  You asked me to call you Ernie because Mr. Beazley made you feel old. Funny to think I’m almost as old as you were then and I, too, despise it when 23 year olds call me Ms. Oldham.

I’d like to think we have a lot in common because you were always there for your young staff, both personally and professionally.

I’ll never forget the time you asked me to make sure “in a sisterly way” that Theo’s dress shirt fit him before he came in for his second day of interviews in Little Rock. It was then that I knew both you and he were too good for the pedestrian world of the workplace and I was truly fortunate to share office space with you.  I’d like you to know so many of the things you did and said stuck. Every time I write a weak lead, I still think about the time you said your dog Blackie could do better. If he was your dog, I have no doubt that he really could have.

I don’t know why we never got together for coffee after I left the paper. And I don’t know why I didn’t do a better job of keeping in touch, which makes it tragic that I can’t, in fact, deliver this letter of gratitude in person.  But I hope that you somehow know what it says anyway — and that it doesn’t have any misspellings or AP style mistakes.



photo credit: <a href=””>bartmaguire</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


Failed Queries: A Repurposing Success Story

I was too in love with this lead to let it go. So, even though this particular query failed more than once, I was eventually able to use its subject — and a variation of its first sentence — in a story on balancing a full-time job with a start-up business.

Dear Ms. Editor:

Not very many grandmas would be willing – or able – to compete in a physique competition clad only in a bikini, body oil and a pair of killer heels.

But no one who meets XX today would ever guess she was a new mother at 17 and just became a grandmother at 36.  In between those milestones, she battled the challenges of single motherhood and many more obstacles. Since 2001, exercise – specifically distance running – has been instrumental in winning those wars, she said. XX started her fitness journey after years of battling body image issues while working as a paralegal and holding additional part-time jobs to support her daughter. Today, she often competes in events to raise money for causes including the American Lung Society and has finally followed her dream to become a full-time fitness professional as owner of XX.

In between visits to her new granddaughter and training sessions with clients, the AFAA and IFA certified personal trainer acts as race director for the XX and founding member of XX. Given all the fitness events on her calendar, it’s no surprise she decided to leave a career in commercial real estate to pursue personal training full time. She specializes in weight loss and functional training and also has a few clients preparing for physique competitions. While she’s had some challenges with start-up costs, billing and collections, she’s on track to break even or possibly turn a small profit in her first year.

Although it was a tough decision to leave a stable job in an uncertain economy, XX said it was time to explore her own strengths if she was going to encourage clients to do the same. Through her work and volunteer efforts, XX, who is also working on certification as a life coach, hopes to convince others that being fit and happy is possible for everyone, no matter what life brings.

“You only have this one life to live. You have the power to choose how you want to live – use your power and talent to do what you want and do it well,” she wrote in a recent email. “Take that power to control your own life because no one else can.”

Given her own inspirational story and her recent efforts to share that story with others, I think  XX would make an excellent subject for a profile. Depending on your needs, the story could focus on her use of exercise to overcome the obstacles in her life, the journey she has taken to become a certified personal trainer and full-time fitness devotee in today’s tough economy, her challenges and successes in her first year as a business owner or all those angles.

Please let me know if you are interested in a profile or if I could provide information on another angle of this story.


Charlene Oldham

Free photo from MorgueFile

Free photo from MorgueFile