Reason To Write: To Save My Life

Amy Gesenhues

For the latest entry in our Reason To Write series, I present Amy Gesenhues, a marketing director, wildly prolific blogger, columnist… and the newest addition to my LoveMom family! That’s right. Starting… now-ish… Amy will be reporting to me! Muah-ha-ha! I’m excited about this because I love Amy’s voice, and I feel as if she has so many fantastic stories to tell. That and she obviously gets the LoveMom ethos.

The following is not at all mom-related. Rather, it speaks to the reason that Amy writes in the first place: to save her life. I feel grateful that Amy was willing to share her incredibly personal story here. Without further ado…

From the day I could spell my last name (which was quite an accomplishment for a kindergartener—Gesenhues is a doozy), I was a writer.

I wrote poems about Holly Hobbie and pretended that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I wrote diary entries about my heartbreak over Jeff Libs not loving me like I loved him. (Is there anything more crushing than unreturned grade school love? Oh right, high school breakups.)

I wrote short stories in college about bulimic 20-year-olds who suffered through tragedies of suicidal boyfriends and drug-addicted fathers.

And then, I got paid to write.

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Reason To Write: To Find My Voice

Lori Widmer: Writer and Editor Extraordinaire

In a continuation of Freelancedom’s Reason To Write series, I introduce to you veteran writer and editor Lori Widmer. I love her story because it reminds me of my own… the story of a young girl who barely spoke, yet found her voice in the writing of poetry. I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to it as well. Thanks, Lori, for sharing your story!

If you knew me, you’d be shocked to learn that I spent the first three decades of my life as a shy introvert who couldn’t seem to find a way into conversations. Until I was about 10, you probably wouldn’t remember a conversation with me at all. I wouldn’t talk. At home my parents wished to God I’d shut up, but once you got me in school, at a relative’s house, or even at the neighbor’s house next door, I would clam up. In school I wouldn’t talk above a whisper unless the teacher called on me because, in my pint-sized mind, I thought my voice sounded different, weird.  I was afraid of being heard.

Maybe that’s why I wrote when I was young. When we were 8 and 10 respectively, my sister and I had a “newspaper” we’d sell to the neighbors for five cents. The news consisted of battles we’d had with our brother, cats’ birthdays, and happenings in our little neighborhood (like someone getting a new bike).  We had a subscriber base of two — the next-door neighbor and my mother.

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Reason To Write: To Connect With Others

Diana Vilibert: confessional writer, really cool chica...

Way back when, at a time when I was actually managing a products blog over at Nerve, I hired Diana as a blogger. Of course, within the confines of the blog, one couldn’t really see what I loved about her writing: the artistry of her words… the bravery and blatant honesty behind them.

These days, Diana is a freelance writer with clips on Lemondrop,, The Frisky, YourTango, CosmoGIRL!, and other publications. She also has a smokin’ hot sex column on Crave Online. She was the web editor for Marie Claire before going rogue.

She writes a lot of lifestyle content, sort of like I do. But what I really love are the snippets she shares on her Tumblr. Because — while all that other stuff no doubt pays her bills — it’s when she’s getting down and dirty and personal that her writing really shines.

So I’m thrilled to feature Diana in this week’s Reason To Write spot. The post below originally appeared on her personal blog.

Someone once asked me if negative feedback on my writing upsets me. I thought about it and said no, not usually. Of course, a few days later, I got a comment that upset me:

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Merry Christmas! My 12 Favorite Freelance Tools and Resources

My gift to you. Go ahead. Open it.

Just yesterday, Deb Ng wrote a fantastic post on the 10 Ways to Give Back to Your Favorite Bloggers for the Holidays. I loved it because I’ve always felt that generosity toward your fellow freelancers was key in achieving career success… and in experiencing the warm fuzzies. In fact, I’d advise all of you to show generosity to your fellow freelancers year-round, with feedback, advice, contacts, support, resources, and more.

In that spirit, I’d like to leave you guys a Christmas gift before shutting down my laptop for the holidays and gorging myself on Candy Cane Kisses and eggnog.

I eschewed fancy wrapping paper, as my cats tend to eat any curling ribbon I  leave languishing beneath the Christmas tree. (And then they puke it up later. Fun!) But even though my gift’s not super-fancy, I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Go ahead. From me to you, my 12 favorite freelance tools and resources. May they bring you career success, and/or make your day-to-day freelance life a bit more bearable.

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Reason To Write: To Break The Rules

Alyssa Martino: Steering clear of rebellion? Not for long!

It seems my Reason To Write series has struck a chord with many writers. Today, Alyssa Martino — a copywriter/editor by day and freelance superstar by night (and, I’m assuming, weekends), shares her own story of how writing gives her permission to break the rules. I love her story, because I often feel the same way: I’m a social anxiety-ridden wuss, but writing makes me brave! Without further ado…

If I were someone else, I’d start off this post by telling you about that time I was arrested for stealing a car. Leads are supposed to pull readers in, and I’d surely succeed with my daring tale of rebellion, crime, and excitement — the wind against my cheeks as I sped ahead of the five cop cars zeroing in from a fog-framed highway.

But the truth is, I’ve always lived my life rationally and responsibly. I rarely act without dissecting the relevant consequences and am infrequently careless (unless you count playing a few too many drinking games. It’s okay now, Mom; I’m 23). I’ve probably disobeyed my parents a total of three times and, even then, they were minuscule infractions, like sleeping over at a friend’s house or eating a second brownie. When they found out, Mom and Dad probably just laughed and said, “It’s okay, kiddo. That rule isn’t too important anyway.”

As parents, they’re likely thrilled by my lack of bad behavior… thrilled to have raised a poster child for compliance. But as a nonfiction writer, I worry about being boring. How will I avoid appearing flat and dull on the page?

But that’s a different story altogether. This isn’t a tale of how I write; it’s one of why I write.

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Reason To Write: A Holiday List

I started the Reason To Write series so that writers could give thanks for the experiences they’ve had and the people they’ve met through writing, and also expound upon the other aspects of the writerly life that make them happy. This week, I’d like to introduce the always-hilarious Ruth Pennebaker, blogger over at The Fabulous Geezersisters, and author of the forthcoming Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough. Ruth decided to use this space to write up a holiday list of all the ways in which writing continues to enrich her life. So when it comes down to it? Perhaps writing is the biggest gift of all.

As always, shoot me an e-mail if you’d like to contribute to this series in the future.

1. I’m not religious and I don’t believe everything “happens for a reason.”  I think life is random and chaotic.  So when I write non-fiction (essays, columns, blog posts, articles), I think I’m trying to make sense of the world.

2. When I write fiction, I get to create my own raw materials and characters and events. So you could say that I have more control over the narrative. The trouble is, you still have to imagine a realistic world where bad things happen to good people and Republicans still won the last election. So you end up trying to make sense out of these events the same way you do with non-fiction. Maybe you have to cede control when you write and allow bad things to happen; otherwise, you would bore the hell out of readers, wouldn’t you?

3. When I was younger, I wrote because I had a talent for it and I wanted people to notice me and see my name in print.

4. Now that I’m older, I think I write for different reasons. It’s partly habit. It’s partly to leave something — my stories — behind. Maybe it’s just for my family or maybe it’s just for me.  Somehow, that’s enough.

5. I also write because I would have made a mediocre lawyer (I have a law degree; don’t ask me why) and a worse neurosurgeon.

6. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, I wish I’d had the talent to be a great lawyer or neurosurgeon. But I don’t. Sometimes I bitch like crazy that the talent I do have is so underappreciated and underpaid. But, at difficult times — say, when my father died in May — I find myself writing and deeply grateful I can write. It helps me. It allows me to express what I need to say. At times like that, I feel sorry for people who can’t write and make something — anything — out of their grief.

7. After 30 years of writing, I write because I love it, it often makes me happy, and I can’t imagine doing anything else or anything better with my life.

Reason To Write: To Make a Difference

Alisa Bowman

Alisa Bowman, my blogging BFF.

The other week, I wrote the kick-off post in a new Freelancedom series — Reason To Write. It was a post about how writing had provided me with the opportunity to experience new things, and discover new passions… like recreational cooking (I’m too much of a disaster in the kitchen to actually call myself an amateur cook, or a foodie). I invited readers to share their own stories.My first guest blogger in the series is the fabulous Alisa Bowman, a laugh-out-loud funny blogger, and the author of the forthcoming Project: Happily Ever After (SUCH a good read!). Her reason to write? Well… read on…

Many years ago, as a newspaper reporter, I wrote because I wanted to make the world a better place. Then, three years into the job, I found myself standing across the street from the house of a woman who had just lost all three of her children. Her ex-husband had shot them all in the head and then set them on fire. Then he’d shot himself.

I was supposed to knock on her door, ask her how she felt and see if she might lend me some photos of her children.

I felt like a slimeball.

I’d just covered a murder like this the week before — and another one the week before that. In the state of Delaware, fathers killing their children had become a “trend,” one that had gained national media attention. News vans and reporters lined the street. This grieving mother could not leave her house without someone sticking a microphone or a camera in her face.

They all wanted a comment from her about how she felt.

I already knew how she felt. She felt like she wanted to die. She felt like she was about to throw up. She felt worse than she’d ever felt in her life.

I didn’t need to ask her how she felt to know that.

I stared at this woman’s front door. I took a deep breath. I let it out with a sigh. I wiped a tear from my cheek. I looked at the other reporters. I sighed again. I got back into my car. I drove to a florist. I sent her flowers.

And then I started combing the want ads.

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Reason To Write: It Got Me Cooking

line of casseroles

I ate all of these.

Last month, I wrote about how my writing had forced me out of my comfort zone, leading me to make my own wine, tour 34 wineries, and even battle my extreme social anxiety in order to give a live reading during NYC’s annual Lit Crawl.

You guys responded with some pretty fabulous stories yourselves. Susan Johnston of The Urban Muse mentioned that she had done a few Mortified readings (so cool!), and Natalia M. Sylvester of Inky Clean wrote of the time she had gone to a bee farm to watch how honey is made (I find this absolutely terrifying).

I love stories like these. Because, while the number one reason I write is to connect with others, the number two reason I write is to give myself an excuse (or an opportunity) to try new things.

And because this is such a huge part of the freelance lifestyle (and of freelancedom, if you will), I’d like to share these stories more often, and hear more of yours.

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Has the Editing Process Crushed Your Soul?

red pen

Okay. I really used Tracked Changes.

In most of the editing I do at YourTango, I try to have an extremely light touch. I feel that I don’t have the right to rip apart a writer’s words, even if I would have said something in a different way.

In other cases (and not too often), I find myself cutting and slashing and rearranging and even sometimes rewriting, and it makes me feel so uneasy. Even if it needs it.

I’ve been working on an essay I assigned for the site. I did a lot of cutting and slashing and rearranging and sometimes even some rewriting. I went back and forth with the writer several times. Look this over, I told her. I want to make sure I haven’t misrepresented you or the research. I want to ensure that I haven’t lost your voice.

She made comments and made suggestions, and admitted that she didn’t have much experience being edited.

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How Writing Forced Me Out of My Comfort Zone

I’ll admit it. Most days, you have to pry me away from the computer screen with a crowbar. I flourish before its dull glow, pretending bravery with every word I type. It’s my safe space. It’s my livelihood. It’s my everything.

People terrify me. It’s why I became a writer. It’s the best way I know of to connect.

But writing can also push you out there. Take you out of your comfort zone. Give you the opportunity to try new things. And — conveniently — this is where the best writing comes from.

This past weekend was more action-packed than it’s been in awhile. In fact, it’s probably the most I’ve been away from a computer screen in eons. It wasn’t my fault, though! I blame the writing.

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