Writing Goals for 2015

I believe working as an adjunct professor is a labor of love. Many who do it could make a lot more money per hour applying their skills outside the classroom. But some, like me, enjoy teaching and want to continue sharing their knowledge with students, albeit not on a full-time basis.

Well, this semester, it’s time for me to prove my long-standing claim that I could earn far more money freelancing than I do in the classroom. I will only be teaching one class and plan to devote much more energy to writing, researching and reporting.

Here are five freelancing goals I aim to achieve in the first half of 2015:

  • Begin every work day by sending out a query. This might be a fresh idea or an existing pitch that I re-slant or re-purpose for a different potential market. In either case, my plan is not to start on anything else until this task is complete.
  • Keep better track of my income and expenses. Rather than dumping all my invoices, check stubs and receipts into a folder until tax time, my goal is to keep running totals that give me an immediate idea of whether I’m making more this year than last.
  • Find five new clients and resolve to do more work for editors I enjoy. Sending a query a day should help me achieve the first part of this objective. To accomplish the second, I plan to propose a new story to my favorite current clients as soon as I turn assignments in to them.
  • Blog more, both for this site and others, and earn more money for guest posts. I’ve already subscribed to FreelanceWriting.com’s Morning Coffee eNewsletter, which lists many paid blogging opportunities. ProBlogger’s job board will also be a regular cyber stop for me in 2015.
  • Explore new types of writing. I haven’t had a personal essay published since grad school. And I haven’t written educational materials for anyone but my own students since leaving the K-12 classroom several years ago. Both are genres I hope to conquer again in 2015, and my first step is researching potential markets for personal essays.

What are your writing goals for 2015?

Free Photo from morgueFile

Free Photo from morgueFile

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.

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If You Love Your Mission, Celebrate and Share It

I was honored to be selected as Umission’s Person of the Week this week. Umission is a local nonprofit dedicated to celebrating people who love their mission, activating people who want a mission to love, and investigating how to keep that mission vibrant and successful.”

I am truly grateful to have found a mission I love and am able to share through writing and teaching. Lately, that mission has become even more vibrant because of my experience leading adult continuing education classes as St. Louis Community College. It was one of my students there, Suzy Shepard, who wrote this Person of the Week Q and A featuring me that I am sure cuts out quite a few “ahhs” and “ums” while allowing me to give long-overdue recognition to a 5th grade teacher I still happen to be friends with through Facebook. When I  posted the story, she wrote, “Thanks, it does make me smile. You never know as a teacher what you say or do that helps a child. I loved teaching.”

Well said. So, if you have a mission you love, become a mentor. And if you need a mission, find someone who loves what they do because spreading that love is what helps keep it alive.

This Teacher Learns a Few Lessons

A while back, one of my Basic Reporting students turned in an assignment that certainly wasn’t perfect, but had undeniable news value. Locura Sana Fitness, a Facebook page launched by the student and two friends, had built a following of more than 10,000. After helping him polish it into a press release, we sent it off to the university’s student newspaper and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A story sparked by that press release about the Spanish-language fitness program, offered free through Facebook and other social media sites, ran in last week’s newspaper.

Between the three of them, the college students put in at least 40 hours a week maintaining the Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram account which, together, boast more than 20,000 followers. But they are pursuing a passion, not a paycheck, so do it all for free.

While following their dream may eventually lead to financial gain for these young people, their efforts to educate others without expecting anything in return is an important lesson for everyone, especially this teacher. Sometimes, I lament the number of hours I put in planning and grading, occasionally thinking about giving up teaching altogether for more lucrative pursuits. But I always come back to the fact I would miss interacting with students — not only sharing my own passions, but celebrating successes when they discover theirs. When I asked the student how it felt to be featured in the newspaper, he modestly replied,”Yesterday was a good day.”

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It was a good day for both of us.

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Adjunct Teaching

Sharing what I know and learning new things from new people are two of my favorite activities. This would explain why I became a reporter and writer. It would also explain why, after the events of September 11, I was inspired leave my job as a business reporter to join Teach For America in an effort to make a difference in the lives of those not already earning a six-figure salary.

Thanks to that amazing organization, I had the opportunity to teach special education and English in Saint Louis City’s Vashon High School. I later moved on to a nearby middle school and, after meeting and working with some incredible adults and young people, finally remembered why few would ever elect to return to middle school in any capacity. Given that I had also expended considerable time, effort and money earning a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, I also thought it was well past time for me to return to writing something other than office referrals.

Still, I knew I would miss sharing my passion for reading and writing with young people, so I settled on what has thus far proven to be an ideal compromise. In addition to adding a certain level of class to my attic storage space, that aforementioned master’s degree makes me qualified to teach college courses as an adjunct.

Adjunct teaching certainly doesn’t give me a six-figure salary comparable to those earned by the executives I used to write about. In fact, it doesn’t even offer anything close to what I brought home as a full-time public school teacher in a struggling city system. But it has been an enlightening experience that makes me honestly echo the cliché that I hope I am teaching my students as much as I am learning from them.

Indeed, it was the textbook for my business communications class, coupled with a few innovative presentations from my students, that inspired the idea behind my first published piece in a decade. And the classes I teach — in which students are encouraged to submit almost all their work through a blog — are the only reason this site exists today.

It’s true that adjunct teaching is often, if not always, a poor way to earn a living for extremely educated, underemployed degree holders hoping for substantive salaries, health insurance and a tenure track professorship. But I would argue it’s an excellent way to sharpen your skills and supplement your income while working on a book project, raising a family or pursuing your Ph.D.

And I can say from experience that it definitely beats middle school bus duty.

Books and Teachers – They Change Lives

Almost anything can be a source of inspiration. Although the subject may seem simplistic to some, I believe a writer can bring any topic to life if they write about it from the heart. A reader can sense that heart behind a piece, even if the subject doesn’t appeal. And true magic happens when a writer’s heart speaks to a reader’s heart at just the right moment in time. For writer and Spokane Indian Sherman Alexie, that moment came when he picked up Ezra Jack Keats’s “The Snowy Day,” a beautifully simple story about a young boy exploring during the first snowfall of the season.

“It was the first time I looked at a book and saw a brown, black, beige character — a character who resembled me physically and resembled me spiritually, in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation,” Alexie said when accepting the National Book Award for young people’s literature for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Like Alexie, I remember a similar moment of connection with a set of fictional characters. Although I was a voracious reader long before my incredible high school English teacher, Anna Belle Akers, recommended Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club,” that recommendation was a turning point in my life as a reader, writer and student. It was the first time I really sensed a teacher viewed me as an individual and — almost — an intellectual equal. It was also the first time a writer and her fictional characters seemed to be speaking directly to me.

As a writer working on several non-fiction projects and just beginning the first draft of a children’s book, I can only dream of creating that heart-to-heart connection with readers some day. As a teacher, I aspire every day to be as inspirational as that high school English teacher who was insightful and courageous enough to recommend a book featuring concubines and opium overdoses to a high school kid who would one day become a writer and teacher herself.

12 Writing Resolutions for the 12 Months of 2012

Mary Kim Schreck, a friend, colleague, teacher and author shared this and I thought it was worth passing on. As an aside, I contributed to Transformers: Creative Teachers for the 21st Century, one of Mary Kim’s books that is well worth reading to fulfill the final resolution if teaching is part of your craft.

12 Writing Resolutions for the 12 Months of 2012.