Tuesday, August 07, 2012

"Follow your heart"

One way I like to start my mornings? By reading the news or checking out news programs on TV. Most of the time, I grab a cup of coffee and check in with some news sites I am subscribed to. But sometimes, I’ll still have some more coffee to drink after I’m done reading the news online, and that’s when I’ll check out any e-newsletters in my inbox. Or I may read postings in online groups I am a member of. So this morning, I had a bit of time to read before getting to work on one of my books. One of those newsletters happened to be the August issue of The Well-Fed E-Pub, a newsletter published by “Well Fed Writer” Peter Bowerman. (Peter wrote the Foreword for my 365 TIPS FOR WRITERS book.)

It was something Peter wrote in the editorial in this newsletter that made me nearly choke on what little coffee I had left in my cup:

Usually, I’m dealing with current or ex-journalists who just can’t shake the notion of the “subjective” nature of commercial writing (i.e., in many cases, you’re “writing to sell” and company’s product/service, or, at the very least, painting it in the best possible light). Versus its – ahem – purer, more high-born, and certainly more objective cousin: journalism.

Okay, so that’s a bit snarky, but in this polarized day and age of ours, the phrase “objective journalism” is rapidly approaching the level of oxymoron. And as our friend above notes, journalism is selling something as well – the newspaper itself.

For those hailing from the Fourth Estate who still struggle with this, who still believe that being a FLCW is tantamount to going over to the dark side, consider this: Writing effective marketing copy (whether a brochure, ad, direct mail piece, white paper or case study, for starters…) is nothing more than helping to put your client’s best foot forward.

It’s about figuring out what makes their product or service special, and crafting materials that reflect those conclusions. It’s not about lying, stretching the truth, wildly embellishing or any other similar nefarious tinkering.

That last part right there made me do a double take. As someone who studied journalism in college and wrote for a few newspapers, thereby calling myself a “journalist” even though I did not have a degree stating as much, I couldn’t help but take what he said personally. I have got NOTHING against copywriters or freelancers, believe me. And I just think it was uncool of him to say something was indeed “snarky” about journalism and, let’s face it, good journalists. (And I say “good journalists” because I know there are indeed bad journalists. Those who do the things that Peter said, such as lying and stretching the truth. Heck, there are even journalists who write articles that border on sensationalist journalism, even if they are writing for a city paper and not some tabloid.) This just really bugged me. I was shocked at first but then the shock wore away and I was mad.

VERY mad!

I was so tempted to send Peter an email and say something along the lines of, “How could you put down journalism like that??!!” I wanted to SCREAM at him! I was just so angry!

But ... I am one of those people who follow the advice of how if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything a all. And I was just too mad to say anything nice right then and there – not to him, anyway. (What was I supposed to say?? “Good on ya!”? “I agree” – when I don’t??) So I kept my mouth shut and just stewed over it.

Still, when I logged in at Facebook, I put this in my status:

“I am still reeling after reading a certain editorial in a certain newsletter I am subscribed to. I just want to scream at this person, "A journalist DOES NOT lie! A journalist, a GOOD journalist, does not 'embellish a story' or 'stretch the truth.' A good journalist reports the facts!" But then it made me realize, I'm not a journalist anymore. Well, as far as writing for a newspaper is concerned. It just really made me think about what I am missing out on right now.”

That last part took me by surprise. I just started typing my reaction and, sure enough, something kinda unexpected happen. My fingers froze over the keys. Realization dawned over me. And my heart gave me a gentle nudge. A nudge that said “Exactly!”

When the newspaper SIGNews shut down, I told people that I cried. I really did. I bawled my eyes out. Here was a GOOD newspaper I had been a part of for so long, one in which I was, yes, a REAL journalist! And now it was gone. I’m not a journalist anymore because I am a writer without a newspaper. Without a degree in journalism at that!

And ya know what? Something was definitely wrong with that picture. Something just wasn’t right!

When I was forced to stop attending college because there was no more money for it, I vowed that someday I would go back. I have NEVER forgotten that vow, even now, all these years later. I have always wanted to go back to college. I still do. I just REALLY want to do this.

Yes, I TRIED to do this before. But something always came up and it didn’t happen. But I never gave up! Someday, I kept telling myself.

Well, you know what? This year’s theme is “someday is today.”

It’s time to stop putting things off!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I should have stuck with my goal of getting a degree in journalism instead of deciding to get a degree in healthcare or a degree in landscaping only because those were jobs that would pay the bills. Nope! That’s not for me!

The degree for me is a journalism degree. My heart is in journalism. Always has been, always will be.

They say you can’t get a job with a journalism degree. Well, so what! I’m going to get that degree anyway! Because that degree will make me a REAL journalist even if I don't have a newspaper to write for at the time.

And even though I have not done the kind of journalism Peter numbered off in his editorial, I’m going to make sure that won’t be what everybody thinks of journalists in the future. I have not nor will I ever be a journalist who lies, stretches the truth or embellishes a story. Nope! And I am prepared to go out there and prove just that. (Wow, isn’t it nice how something negative ended up being something positive later on? Thanks, Peter!)

Of course, I realize that being a journalist, a reporter, is very demanding. You have to be ready to get OUT THERE where the news is at the minute it happens. You have to have nerves of steel. There are risks involved, as well, and it’s hard to have much of a “personal life” when you must be ready to report the news 24/7.

All of this made me think extra hard about this decision. This choice might affect how much time I’ll get to spend with my kids. And my kids mean EVERYTHING to me. It will be hard going from being there for them all of the time to being there for them some of the time.

But I know I must do this. I HAVE to do this.

And I know that if I do this, I will be teaching my children the message of how important it is to go after what you want in your life. I will be setting a good example for them. Don't give up on what you want just to be available 24/7 for other people. Live. Your. Life. There is MORE to life than being a stay-at-home mom or dad. I want them to know this and see this from me.

And, anyway, by the time I get the degree and can work, Jennifer will be old enough to be at home alone to watch her little brother.

I know I am not meant to be a stay-at-home mom. A housewife. The maid.

I know I MUST do something more in life. And I know this is a step in the right direction. This is what my heart is telling me to do.

Despite this resolve, I still struggled with how hard that change will be. I even started to ask myself if I was being selfish. Or if I should wait until the kids have flown the coop.

And, of course, there is also the fact that I am profoundly deaf. My experience with in-person interviewing was compromised in the past. I recorded interviews and my sister transcribed them. That would not work now. So, what would I do? Maybe have an assistant to sign to me? It was quite a problem that was causing me to doubt my resolve.

Then, of course, there's money. It's going to cost MONEY to go back to school to get a degree in journalism! A lot of money. And we don't have "a lot" of money. What then?

But then ... something else happened.

I logged into my email account again later on in the day, and there in my inbox was a notification from Facebook that someone commented on one of my status updates. It was Carolyn Howard-Johnson. I saw that and held my breath. I thought, Uh-oh. Did she know I was ranting about Peter’s editorial? I know she has met him and maybe she was defending him, or something. (And I even kept telling myself He probably didn’t mean it that way!) But when I opened it to read it, it said this: “Follow your heart.”

I had to reread those words. They just REALLY had a profound affect on me. They really moved me. I guess I needed those words there and then.

Carolyn was commenting on a different status I posted yesterday, but her words just really hit home with me.

The last time I followed my heart, in love, it did not end well. So I had to ask myself, you know, was I giving up? Was I just burying what I really wanted to do in life because I think it won’t happen??

Why not just take her advice and go after what I REALLY want to do with my life? Go after that goal? Just follow my heart and see where it will led?

Those words had such a powerful affect on me. They ended up being words I took to heart.

“Follow your heart.” That is good advice. And I think that is advice that I will take. (Thanks, Carolyn!)

I believe things happen for a reason. Maybe there was a reason why I took Peter's words the way I did, a reason why Carolyn posted that comment at that particular point in time. Maybe it was Fate telling me, Yes! This is your path!

I love it when Fate works like that.

Peter Bowerman's response:

The "snarky" reference was a description of my previous comment, NOT about journalists or journalism. Yes, I was taking a certain segment of the journalism trade to task, but was in no way, extrapolating for the entire field. I'd never do that, and I apologize if that's how it came across.

But, most importantly, I'm afraid you fundamentally misunderstood the section, "It's not about lying....nefarious tinkering."

I was referring to how many journalists view the commercial writing world: they believe writing copy is about lying, embellishing, etc. I was NOT describing journalists with that section. Again, I'd never make so brazen an assertion! ;)

Dawn here: I thought I misunderstood him. :) Sorry, Peter. But like I said in email, at least something good came out of it.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Oh, gosh! I am so glad I was instrumental in your finding a path you're comfortable with, Dawn. Go with your heart is somethng I advise my clients to do all the time. They've read that they should research the competition, find a niche that's needed and then write about it. I feel that by the time the writing is done, someone else will have come along to fill the void. Furthermore, the book (or article or painting) is not going to be as great as something the author has written with passion. I'm not saying that research and the business side of writing shouldn't be considered. I just think that if we're passionate (and persistent--which is lots easier if we're passionate!), success will come.

Now, as to my friend Peter Bowerman. Yes, he is special. As evidenced by his quick apology and clarification. I, too, am an old journalist (in every sense of the word) and resent that people make the whole profession out to be untrustworthy ogres. The world of journalism is grand training for all kinds of writing, by the way.

Having said that, I also have a background in marketing, which also often gets a bad rap. This kind of labeling is related to the generalization that causes so many ills in the world. Without great journalism, our nation would be less free and more corrupt. And marketing--at its best--is doing exactly what you describe. Helping people find what they need, not selling something they don't want.

So, you struck a chord. Go for it girl!

As long as this is lengthy anyway, do you watch Howard Kurz's Reliable Resources on journalism on CNN on Sunday mornings?


Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo)

Lucy BH said...

Follow your heart. Hmmm. I have followed mine on several occasions and now i am stuck in a hole that feels of my own making. What to do now? I have no idea.

Dawn Colclasure said...

Carolyn, thank you for such a well-thought comment. :) Yes, I know people often see journalism in a negative light. I am glad that Peter is not one of them. Now that you have both shared your two cents about this, I have a better understanding of what he meant. and I get where he is coming from. I guess there is always going to be someone who sees the negative in everything, even a profession. And, yes, you definitely helped me to find the courage to go after what I REALLY want to do in life. :) (And, believe it or not, I just came across a job posting this morning that I got all excited about but it said "must have journalism degree." Now see how helpful a degree would be in such a case?) I appreciate your comments and thank you for taking the time. As to that show, I am not familiar with it, but I will definitely check it out!

Dawn Colclasure said...

Lucy, sorry to hear about that. Hang in there! If you REALLY want something, you go after it no matter what and no matter how long it takes.