Tag Archives: Journalism

Celebrating My Birthday With 7 Writing Gifts to Myself

Red and white gift boxes. Some decorated with stripes and others with patterns.

Tuesday, June 21 is my birthday and I am breaking tradition. I am celebrating by writing gifts to myself. I know you are supposed to receive gifts from others and I will happily take them. I just wanted to do  something a little different this year. After all the birthdays I have had, and there has been plenty. You got to spruce things up a bit  and get a little more creative.

Now you may be asking, “What is  a writing gift?” I am not talking about physical gifts like fancy or expensive writing pens or decorative  writing paper. Not even cute little paperweights with witty writing sayings or slogans. Or a writer T-shirt with matching tote bag or coffee mug. What I am talking about are gifts  that bring sparkle and joy to my creative process as a writer. These gifts are not covered in shiny paper  and bows. Rather they are internal  and part of the process  of a writing life and routine.

1.  Gift of calling myself a writer

No imposter syndrome here! Although I am currently not on the writing payroll, I do consider myself a writer. I am writing this post, aren’t I?

Publication  and payment are not sole determinations of a true writer. Writing takes work, energy and perseverance but it is also fun and exciting.

Whether I get paid or see my byline writing is a gift. Not everyone can do it. Coming up with creative and interesting content, and writing compelling prose is a real talent. Nothing to sneeze at! The actual acknowledgement it matters is Honoring the time and talent to my craft.

A pink birthday cake with a shiny gold #1 candle on top

Thinking of myself as a writer is a gift because half of the writing process is mental. I am the first person to make my work legit. If I don’t believe  I am a writer then I can’t expect anyone else to believe it either.

2.  Gift of time to write

My lifestyle affords me the time to write. I don’t have to squeeze it in between work and family. I don’t have to get up early before the kids wake up. I don’t have to leave my home for a quiet place to concentrate. I can write at any time I want. Morning, noon or night. I have even gotten spirts of writing inspiration in the wee hours of the morning. Booted up my computer and got to typing.

And because I am very organized I can plan and prepare in advance. Well, you know, as much as humanly possible. Things can come up unexpectedly. I can schedule my time, giving space for life, friends and social activities  along with moments to write.

3.  Gift of letting go

I am a perfectionist by nature and it comes out in my writing. I will ruminate over a piece of work, nick picking before pressing the submit or publish button. I am learning to let go and that  this is a gift to myself. I don’t have control over how my work is received  by others. I don’t have control if an editor will publish it or not. I don’t have control of  reactions from a social media post. I can just control what I write on the page.

The ability to release  and let go reduces stress and anxiety I didn’t even know I had. When I let go I can focus on the pure joy of writing.

4.  Gift of boredom

Empish Yawning

Taking time away from writing  to just sit  and think about nothing is a gift. I do this in the A.M. while listening to the bird’s chirp outside   or rain pelting across my windowpane. I just lay in the bed and do nothing. Letting my mind scatter, thinking of nothing in particular.

We all know, children get scolded for letting their minds wander, not paying attention or listening. But actually, in this situation, being a kid is a good thing. Mental musing is a gift . It allows the brain to recharge  and helps  creative ideas to flow naturally.

5. Gift of community

The writing life is typically solitary. Yet having a community of fellow writers is  not competition but friendships that feed and nourish creativity.

Having others to “talk shop” builds connection  and a sense of belonging. I am not alone and having others to converse with is a wonderful gift to myself. Every writer needs a friend who truly gets it without having to explain. Support one another  through this writing life because we are all in it together.

6. Gift of saying no

Saying no is a powerful gift to myself. I have to prioritize what writing I am going to do. Do I have the time? The energy? The head space? The knowledge? Sometimes I want to be Super Woman and do it all. I don’t have to feel guilty or obligated  to write a piece or take an assignment that doesn’t fit. Can you relate? I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have looked over writing opportunities  trying to decide if I should take the gig or not. Sometimes you find yourself compromising  for the money, the opportunity, the prestige. Or fill in the blank. This is the time to weigh the cost and use the gift of saying no. It will free you for that yes coming around the corner.

7. Gift of saying yes

Understanding the powerful gift of saying no, leads to the time to say yes. I am imagining  that moment when this amazing  writing assignment comes to me out of nowhere. The one I have been waiting for and didn’t even realize it. The one I was a little shy and afraid of. This is when I will use my gift of saying yes.

What Are Your Writing Gifts?

These seven writing gifts are included in my self care regiment and writing toolkit. They are great reminders of who I am  and  motivate me to keep going. Now, that you know my writing gifts, what are yours? Share in the comments  and let’s  celebrate the power of gift giving.

New York Times Columnist Shares Insights on Vision Loss and Found

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I came across another excellent audiobook read from the library by  New York Times columnist and bestselling author, Frank Bruni. “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found” is a wise and moving memoir about aging, affliction, and optimism after partially losing eyesight.

The first time I heard about Frank was listening to his interview  with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Print Impaired. Then again  with Oprah as he was discussing this book. I knew, when the book was available in audio, I had to read  about his vision loss journey  .

Book Summary

Display of NLS Talking Book Player, Cartridges and Earbuds

The book Summary from Bookshare. One morning in late 2017, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni woke up with strangely blurred vision. He wondered at first if some goo or gunk had worked its way into his right eye. But this was no fleeting annoyance, no fixable inconvenience. Overnight, a rare stroke had cut off blood to one of his optic nerves, rendering him functionally blind in that eye—forever. And he soon learned from doctors that the same disorder could ravage his left eye, too. He could lose his sight altogether.

In The Beauty of Dusk, Bruni hauntingly recounts his adjustment to this daunting reality, a medical and spiritual odyssey that involved not only reappraising his own priorities but also reaching out to, and gathering wisdom from, longtime friends and new acquaintances who had navigated their own traumas and afflictions. The result is a poignant, probing, and ultimately uplifting examination of the limits that all of us inevitably encounter, the lenses through which we choose to evaluate them and the tools we have for perseverance.

Bruni’s world blurred in one sense, as he experienced his first real inklings that the day isn’t forever and that light inexorably fades but sharpened in another. Confronting unexpected hardship, he felt more blessed than ever before. There was vision lost. There was also vision found.

Initial diagnosis  and Advocacy

His story was very relatable, especially in the beginning. The first doctor was reluctant to give a proper diagnosis of his sudden vision loss. It was all maybes  and guessing which can send you down the rabbit hole of possibilities. He was referred to a specialist who gave the final diagnosis  of a stroke and no cure. I recalled some of the same experiences talking to multiple eye doctors. Taking numerous tests  and also  telling me there was no cure.

A Black male patient is sitting in a chair, facing his white doctor who is doing an exam/refraction with a phoropter.
Image courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Frank stresses  the importance of being your own advocate when it comes to medical care. Doctors are busy and you are one of many patients. Be prepared to ask questions and do your own research. Also, bringing a friend or family member to appointments to help is useful as long as they understand their role and let you take the lead.

For example, Frank mentions not knowing about low vision services or opportunities for clinical trials. Or the doctor not asking questions about mental and emotional health. I can definitely relate. The same thing happened to me too. I had to find out about those resources from other people, and once Did, I chastise my eye doctor for not informing me. Fortunately, he took the constructive criticism well and promised to do better.

Why Not Me?

Frank poses the questions, “Why me?” Yet, there is a better question, “Why not me?” Why should any of us be spared struggle when it is a universal condition? Comfort and happiness are not automatic; we should expect some kind of difficulty to come into our lives. Having this mindset leaves us unprepared for pain and struggle. I have always been told just live long enough and pain and suffering will ultimately come into your life. I have also come to believe that perfect or even excellent health is not a guarantee until death. At some point  something on our bodies will break down.

Millions of Americans have some form of vision loss and that doesn’t include hearing loss or other bodily functions especially as we get older. Frank’s viewpoint is not that he overcame an obstacle but lives a condition. I appreciate this statement in the sense that being disabled is not something that I have overcome but what I live every day. It is a part of who and what I am. Yes, there are difficult moments but sometimes an ending is a new beginning. Sometimes a limit or a loss is a gateway to a new encounter. Skills you wouldn’t have acquired, insights you wouldn’t have gleaned come to live during this time.

Career as a Journalist

Frank talks about his career as a journalist  and his ability to write well. When he lost his vision  he made tons of errors in his writing. This of course  was devastating. But he began to focus on the ability and the gains. The fact he could still write in the first place. Editors who still wanted to work with him and readers who still wanted to read his work. I can identify. I too  am a writer  and lost vision immediately after receiving my journalism degree. I wondered what kind of career could I have as a blind writer? How would that work? I knew how to do the work as it was all in my head from my education  and training (I graduated with 7 journalism internships under my belt). The access to assistive technology  as allowed me to pursue this not only as a career but as a passion.

Growing Old and Being Disabled

Privileges and blessings were so much greater than what was loss. It was eye-opening in Frank’s perception of the world around him. How he saw other people with disabilities and  those who were elderly. These people were out here living their lives.

To grow old is to let things go. I see this more and more as I get older. But it first started when I went blind. My disability forced me to  release the reins. I had to shift my focus and prioritize  the things that really mattered. I pick and choose my battles because I want to live for another day. It takes energy  to pay attention and/or push the envelope on everything.

Frank points out we are a country that focuses on youth. As a result, we miss the greatness  of the accomplishments  that people make later in life. People are still doing phenomenal things in the later stages of life. With aging comes wisdom and maturity. You feel more comfortable in your own skin. What determines people’s happiness is not their physical conditions but what they pay attention to. When it comes to being disabled  you are not focused on that all day long. You are living your life, working, going to school, spending time with friends and family, etc. Frank finally muses  there is beauty in every stage of the day, from dawn to dust

Growing  a Writing Green Thumb:  6 Ways Spring Can Nurture Your Craft

Colorful spring flowers in a field with the sky in the background

Writing About Spring

I’ve  never been great at growing vegetation. Plants and flowers  don’t seem to flourish around me. The idea of getting outside in the heat. Dealing with bugs of all kinds. Tilling soil  and getting dirty. None of these are my thoughts of a fun  and enjoyable activity. Then add my visual disability to the mix  and my interest quickly wilts like leaves on an unwatered plant. Although there are blind gardeners they must have a passion I don’t possess. But what I have found fruitful is writing about the topic. Now, that is something I can do.

I have been reading a lot about spring and it has inspired me to write about the season as it relates to the writing craft. I can’t grow an actual green thumb but I can do it with words. Here  is how I do it.

1. Start New Writing Habit

Spring is the time to rejuvenate. The time for rebirth. The time to try something new. With that in mind, start a new writing habit or ritual. I tried something new  with writing this blog post. Before writing anything down or doing any research I wrote a list of keywords that  communicated spring and growth. Words such as: nature, nurture, flourish, blooming, blossoming, petals, plants, leaves, stems, root, ground, dirt, soil and germinate. This writing exercise helped to get the creative juices flowing. It boosted my excitement about writing this piece. I felt energized  . Also, it helped eliminate using the same standard, old words and phrases  multiple times.

2. Writing in a Different Genre

Empish holds the anthology titled “Strengths, Courage and Inspiration During the coronavirus.”

Another new habit worth trying is writing in a different genre. If you are a nonfiction writer try fiction. If you are an author enter a writing contest or pen an article for a newspaper or magazine. Just like growing the same crop every time the soil  will lose nourishment, your writing can go stale. Your creativity can suffer. I have tried a new writing assignment. A  submission  I wrote was recently published in my local library’s anthology. it has motivated me to continue in this direction and I am working on another anthology submission for Black female writers.

3. Interact in Person

Spring is also the time to come out of the winter cave. During those cold months we stay at home and hibernate. Plus, the pandemic  has made many of us hesitant to physically interact with each other. But this is the prime time to get out of the house. Slow down those numerous Zoom calls. Renew old friendships and meet new people. Whether it is a writing group, book club meeting, or just hanging out, these interactions  boost positive energy  perfect for growing creativity.

I am an introvert but love interaction. This spring  I started attending live theatre again. I went to my first production  last month and it was a wonderful experience. I will share more in a future post. Later this month, I will be meeting with my dinner book club in person for the first time since the pandemic started.

4. Write Down Ideas and Thoughts

Now, for the real dirty work. You must plant seeds in order for your writing green thumb to grow. Just like in a real garden, seeds must be sown in order for flowers, fruits or veggies  to materialize. Something I do regularly is write down blogging ideas whether they turn into a published piece or not. This  boosts my creativity  and gets those little writing shoots growing. When you write a list of ideas you  can refer back  and it keeps your creative brain fertilize. You are giving your thoughts and ideas a safe place to grow and germinate.

The seeding stage is the most important of phases of a plant’s growth  and can’t be rushed. In other words, you can’t speed up creativity. it has to sprout over time, and with water, sunlight and nurturing creative ideas will soon emerge through the soil.

5. Remember the Writing Process

Seeds are resilient to weather changes, fighting their way through the ground. You will see little spurts of green sprouts inching their way up. As a writer it is easy to focus on the victories and successes of our craft. The published article, blog or even book, without properly acknowledging  the hard work it took to get there. There is real time and struggle in accomplishing any objective  or success story. Remember the experience and don’t forget the writing process as you work toward your goals. Enjoy the journey  not just the fruits of your labor.

6. Stop Writing If Burned Out

Are your writing seedlings not growing? Don’t see any shoots sprouting up? Experiencing creative burnout? Yes, I can relate. If you are Stuck on the next section of a story, unclear on a headline,  struggling with a character. Then stop. Do something totally different than writing. Do something you enjoy but doesn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics. This gives your brain a break allowing creative ideas to blossom. For me exercise is my thing. Turning up the music loud and walking on my treadmill not only is good exercise  but I can relax and enjoy the moment. usually by the time I am done I can get back to writing. Other times, I will sit on the piece and sleep on it. Then come back the next day and continue to write.

Empish on Treadmill

Spring is here and full of writing possibilities. Use my ideas to inspire and refresh   your work. I am sure that one, two  or maybe even all of them will help you grow that writing green thumb.

Managing Creative Burnout and Slowly Getting My Writing Mojo Back

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

Writing is a Joy

Writing has been such an intricate part of my life it is hard for me to remember  the days when I was not a writer. With that being said writing is something I love to do not just a task to make money. The creative process is a joy. Coming up with  topics to write. Stringing interesting words and phrases to make sentences worthy of reading is exciting. Researching fascinating topics for a blog or an article  thrill me. But I noticed a shift recently. It was  not glaring directly in my face like a deer in headlights. Rather it was more subtle  and quiet.

It  all started around the Christmas holidays. My mother came to visit me and boy what a treat. For her  short visit I set up a firestick so we could lounge on the sofa and watch TV and movies. This is what we typically do when I am home. We did that and had a wonderful time. But after she left I kept lolling on that sofa. It was hard to get up and get going. I would tell myself, one more movie and then I will get to writing only to look up and the whole day was gone. This strange and weird pattern  stretched over several days and then weeks. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. This behavior  was not my style.

Showing Signs of Creative Burnout

I did a self-check in and noticed my love for writing  was not gone. I was just not in the mood. I was just not motivated.

After reading all the new year articles about setting goals and intentions I stumbled across some talking about creative burnout. As I continued to read and research I discovered this was me. Like being diagnosed with a disease, I was displaying  the signs and symptoms. I became my own doctor and started to work on a cure. Or at least a way to reduce  the symptoms  so I could get back on track. As of this writing I am in a better place but don’t feel completely recovered. I don’t feel that I have fully gotten my writing mojo back. Rather I am managing my creative burnout  and here’s how.

Need to Chill Out

AS they say in the Alcoholic Anonymous meetings you have to admit there is a problem. You can’t be in denial and expect to get better. As I said earlier, I knew something was wrong. Or at least something was off. But I had to go a little deeper. I looked at my personality. I am one of those Type A people most people love to hate. I am on time every time. I am meticulous about keeping things organized. I keep a running list of things to do and  don’t handle it well  when I can’t scratch  items off my list daily. So, you get the idea of the kind of person I am. In a lot of places my type works very well yet in other places people  want me to chill. I have worked on relaxing  and cooling out over the years. Which leads to my creative burnout.

Since I know who and what I am, it began to dawn on me  this period in my life  was probably a needed respite. Instead of getting stressed out, worrying  or even ramping up my work, I needed to stop and listen. To take a chill pill as they use to say. To slow down  and be quiet.

I Am Not Alone

The next thing I realized is that I was not alone. While sitting on my sofa  mindlessly watching movies  I felt a little isolated. Like I was the only one or one in a few dealing with this issue. But that is not true. People who are creatives  can experience burnout. That is people who are writers, artists, social media  experts,  musicians, influencers, podcasters, etc. People who have to crank out content constantly  for the man. You know who I’m talking about. It is a continuous  grind to come up with creative ideas to write about, to blog about and on and on. After a while you get tired because  you are not a machine but a human being.

As  creatives, yes, we take breaks. Yes, we do all the selfcare stuff. But we can still get burned out. Because we are on someone’s schedule  and the work has got to be excellent. The heat and pressure is on.

Switch Writing Gears

So, what to do? I have switched gears up a bit. I have worked on writing projects  that don’t demand  all of that from me. Projects where I can use  the other side of my brain. This way I can give myself some needed rest while still doing what I love.

Not Demanding Perfection

I am also not demanding perfection from myself as much. I realized the huge amount of stress I was placing on myself. Not that I  won’t produce excellent work. Or be open to correction  and criticism to improve. That is not what I am talking about. I am referring to the fact that I am not perfect. That I tend to be nitpicky when it comes to my work. I know as long  as I do my very best that is good enough. I just have to keep telling myself that until it sticks like old chewing gum on the bottom of my shoe.

Making Peace and Not Afraid

I have also made peace with this place in my life. I am not fighting where I am. Everything has a purpose. This transition or phase or whatever you want to call it is happening right  now  for a reason. I am learning how to lean into  the moment and experience the ride. I don’t have to be in control of everything  all the time. And actually,  it feels pretty good  to pump the breaks.

Lastly, with this new resolve I am not afraid of totally losing my mojo. AS a matter of fact, it is slowly coming back. Not in a big title wave like I had originally expected  but more  like drips from a  leaky faucet. I can live with this fact because writing is my joy.

Talk to me. Are you a creative? Have you experience burnout? If so, what things did you do to manage it? How did you get your mojo back?

Do Words Matter? Here’s 15 Quotes on the Power of Words

Poster of night sky with Northern lights. The top says Words Matter Week 2022. Bottom has quote from Emily Dickinson

The Power of Words

Yes, words Matter. They are what we use to communicate. Whether it is verbally or in written form words are the tools for language. From the time a small child learns to talk, the significance of words becomes clear. With that being said words have power. They can inspire, motivate or encourage ,. Yet, words can also cause harm. They can tear down, harass and destroy. This is why it is so important to be wise and thoughtful in the words we speak to each other and also to ourselves.

Words Matter Week

This is Words Matter Week, March 6-12. Sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. They know the importance of words and have been celebrating it for 14 years. In the past people have honored Words Matter Week by writing in their journals, taking a writing class/course, or writing stories and poetry. But I decided to do something a little different. I did a simple Google search and found 15 quotes on the power of words. These quotes are insightful and thought-provoking. I hope they will resonate with you and remind you of how much words matter not just this week but every week.

15 Quotes on Words

Books on desk with cup of tea

1.  “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou

2.  “Raise your word, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Rumi

3.  “Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

4.  “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.” Emily Dickinson

5.  “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell

6.  “Language creates reality. Words have power. Speak always to create joy.” Deepak Chopra

7.  “It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say.” Zora Neale Hurston

8.  “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating

9.  “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.” Buddha

10.  “Words have power, words are power, words could be your power also.” Mohammed Qahtani

11.  “A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.” Jessamyn West

12.  “There is power in words. What you say is what you get.” Zig Ziglar

13.  “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa

14.  “Speak to yourself like someone you love. Encourage yourself, motivate yourself, and uplift yourself with your words.” ATGW

15.  “Words have magical power. They can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair.” Sigmund Freud

8 Reasons I Love Writing

Valentine pink heart shaped paper on white and pink floral textile

I Love Writing

Hey everybody, it’s Valentine’s Day on the 14th! The special time we celebrate love. But this post is not going to be about anything romantic or sexy. Sorry no hot and steamy love stories or how to romance your sweetheart here. This post is going to address 8 reasons why I love writing.

I have been a writer for several years and despite the ups and downs of my life I still love it. This has included death of friends and family, becoming disabled, various job changes and now a pandemic. I am still writing and loving it. And this is the thing. If you don’t love what you do it will show and people will see it. Why put all the work and effort into something you don’t have a deep love or passion for? So, as it is with my writing, I love what I do and here’s why.

8 Reasons Why

Valentine's couple making heart shape with hands

1. I love the creative process of writing. I am naturally curious and interested in all kinds of things. Sometimes those thoughts end up on my computer page. I get to stretch my brain muscle and put digital pen to paper on topics I wonder about.

2.  I love the Spiritual Aspect Of Writing. Writing helps me connect with God and also the universe. It generates a positive sense of my existence. Although I have a journalism degree and years of experience, I know my ability to write is not just from my talents alone., I feel incredibly grateful for this gift of written communication.

3.  I love stringing various words together to create sentences, paragraphs and ultimately pages. I find words and writing thrilling. When I get into my zone words can just fly off the page.

4.   AS a professional writer, I use writing to explore topics of interest. I enjoy reading and learning about things. A lot of times that curiosity comes out in my writing as I pitch a story to a client.

5.  Writing is like therapy. Years ago, I started journaling and found it so helpful when unpacking complicated emotions and thoughts. Writing my feelings down on paper has helped me to get through difficult moments in my life. It has also given me perspective and the ability to look at the bigger picture. Lastly, when I review past journal entries I can see my development, growth or sometimes stagnation.

6. Writing is my legacy. Since I am single with no children I won’t have a family to leave behind once I am gone. But I have tons of my published writing work. People can read my work and be inspired, motivated and hopefully encouraged.

7. Writing allows me to speak for my community. I am a Black woman with a disability and many times are stories are not told or told incorrectly. My love of writing gives me the power to say something, which I don’t take lightly. My writing lets me educate, share a different perspective and enlighten people based on my life experiences. Responses to my writing have helped me build community and connection.

8.  Writing allows me to express my opinions and beliefs. As a professional writer I have had to write for others with their thoughts, attitudes and style in mind. But when I do my personal writing I can let my hair down and say the things I really want and in the way I want. This is a big reason why I started this blog in the first place. I needed a platform for my personal thoughts, feelings and musings about things. I wanted a safe place to express myself in a written format.

Are you a writer? If so, I’d love to hear your reasons for why you love writing. Whether you write for the pure joy or as a career choice we all have stories to tell. Share yours with me in the comments.

My Writing Toolkit: Three Essential Instruments for Successful Freelance Writing

black and white line drawing of two feather pens in an inkwell

Creating Website and Blog

It was this month 2 years ago when I decided to rebuild my website and launch my own blog. The desire to create a personal place to write my own thoughts and feelings about whatever was going on had been noodling around in my head for a long time. Prior to this time, I had been blogging and writing professionally for years but had not carved out a special place that reflected my own ideas and opinions.

Reassembling Writing Toolkit

Yet, I didn’t just want a place to document streams of consciousness or my views on the latest this or that. I wanted to maintain my online presence because I was moving back into freelance writing work. I had been a freelancer in the past and uderstood the importance and necessity of having a virtual home to showcase my written work. So, here I am two years later doing exactly this. Major goal accomplished.

In reestablishing myself as a freelance writer I had to reassemble my toolkit. I had to dust off some instruments. Throw out some old and rusty implements. Add some new and shiny gadgets. Today My writer toolkit is restored. But as I was cleaning and organizing some tools immediately grabbed my attention. Three I use frequently. Three I prefer over others.

First Writing Tool

I am a voracious reader as many of you already know. However, my reading is not just for leisure and entertainment. I also read for personal development and growth. Even more so to help with my work and career. Hence, reading is one of the tools in my toolkit. Part of my monthly reading is the Writer Magazine which I receive in audio format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. This publication   is a valuable part of my career. I have learned so much about the freelance writing world along with tips and tricks on how to be an overall better writer.

Two facemasks expressing love of libraries and African American authors

I also read audiobooks on the writing craft. Currently on my list is “Who Said What:  A Writer’s Guide to Finding, Evaluating, Quoting and Documenting Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism” by Kayla Meyers. I just started but already I am learning so much about how to do deeper and richer searches on the internet. I am confident as I continue reading more precious nuggets of wisdom will surface.

Another book I added to my virtual bookshelf is “African American Women in the News: Gender, Race and Class in Journalism” by Dr. Marian Meyers. Although I don’t work directly in the newsroom or for a media company this book was good to read. It helped me to stay abreast of the trends in the newsroom as it relates to Black women and also the impacts of social media and how it is transforming the way we digest news.

Second Writing Tool

Reading is not the only way I absorb information and learn about writing. Sometimes I will become a student and take a mini online course. I am currently in the midst of going back to J-school with a refresher course on journalism. I am learning how to write eye-catching headlines. Ones that will grab a reader’s attention and encourage them to click on my story. How many times have you passed over an email or story online because the headline was not compelling? Yeah, I know because I have done it too. With so much content hollering for your attention writing a headline that stands out is critical.

Before the J-school course, I went through a session of webinars to improve my website. It was chalked full of useful hints on improving my site to draw more freelance work. Once the course was completed I was given a critique of my site with suggestions for improvement. AS I implement those recommendations I know it will help lead me to more opportunities.

Third Writing Tool

I have to admit this third tool has been hard for me. I know the freelance writer life is a lonely and solitary one. I have made some meager attempts to build a writer community which have gone flat. I realize the problem is my approach and method is vastly different than what is popular. What I mean is the majority of communities now, especially with COVID, are online. They are on forums, chat rooms, social media, or similar places. Well, that way of interaction has never been my speed. Some of it has to do with accessibility. Some has to do with who I am as a person. It is not my flavor. But I am coming to some understanding that I got to get with the program. So, I have been slowly migrating to these virtual communities. I am currently a member of a writers’ forum where I engage from time to time. Recently I joined a writer’s collective for Black folks that looks very promising. I will attend my first meeting next week via Zoom.

Surely, if I root around in my toolkit I will find other helpful writing tools. Things like podcasts, newsletters, email blasts and list groups. But the three I have shared rise to the top and are essential to my freelance success.

My Challenges Applying for Jobs Online

Empish Working in Home Office

Those of you who spend time surfing the web know full well advancements in computer technology have made it easier and better to search for employment online. As a job seeker, we no longer must go in person and fill out a paper application or physically fax a resume and cover letter. Today we can independently and on our own time go online to search for jobs.

With my screen reader, I can upload my resume and cover letter to a prospective employer’s website. Or I can create a username and password to log in to generate an online profile. Or I can fill out an electronic application and search for a job using an online recruiting job board. All these advancements are awesome because as a blind person I can apply for jobs from the convenience and comfort of my home. Yet, I have face challenges because these sites are not always accessible hindering me from applying for positions. Additionally, many employers miss out on qualified, talented applicants, like me, because they create external barriers with inaccessible online application tools.

This is why I was excited to share my job searching challenges with Inclusively, a professional network connecting candidates with disabilities, mental health conditions and chronic illnesses to jobs and inclusive employers. I gave several examples of how I struggled with inaccessible form fields, log in screens and online applications. Read all the details and learn more about Inclusively’s employment platform here.

How I Volunteer Virtually Regardless of a Pandemic

black and white line drawing of two feather pens in an inkwell

National Volunteer Week

When most people think of volunteering in the community it is something that you physically do such as feeding the homeless, building a house, tutoring/reading to children, registering people to vote, or running errands for seniors. All of those tasks are great volunteer opportunities and are well needed in the community but there are things that I have done as a volunteer sitting right at home.  I have been volunteering all my life in a variety of projects. Even after I went blind, I still kept volunteering. I just had to shift the way I did it. I figured out a way to use my journalism skills to help my community and even during a pandemic. This week is National Volunteer Week; April 18-24.   The Points of Light established it as an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world.

Started Virtual Volunteering

My first step into virtual volunteering was right after I went blind and lost my corporate job to downsizing, I was rethinking my career path and decided to volunteer at a non-profit. Since I was now a part of the disability community, I wanted to learn more and give back. I worked on a newsletter for a disability non-profit agency called disABILITY LINK. I collected articles and other content for the newsletter via email and phone. Wrote and edited the pieces, then submitted to my supervisor for publishing.

This was a good opportunity for me because it allowed me to give back, use my journalism skills in a professional way and learn about the disability community. It was a win-win all the way around. I began to realize that I could use my writing in a more meaningful way than just as a career.

Volunteering as a Radio Producer  

Empish with Guest Roderick Parker at GaRRS Studio

The next opportunity came in 2006 where a friend recommended me for the position. I was asked to help produce the Eye on Blindness Show by the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Prior to this time, my experience had been in writing only. So, this stretched my journalism skills and I was up for the challenge. Each month I was directed to find guests for the 30-minute show, do research, and write up show notes and promotion materials. All I did from home using my landline phone and computer. I also collaborated with the show’s host on topic ideas and future guests. I volunteered for about 3 years on the show. Later I was asked to come back and not only produce but host as well; which I gladly did for another 3 years.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Volunteering as a Blogger

One day I got an email request for bloggers/peer advisors for a website called VisionAware. The website was a resource for people new to vision loss and they were looking for people to talk about their lives and give advice and information. Well, that was right up my alley. So, I filled out the application form and signed on. That was back in 2012 and I am still volunteering with VisionAware to this day.  We meet once a month via Zoom conference call to discuss topic ideas and themes for the site. We work to give true and honest information with a real-life experience. I write blog posts from home and submit via email. Volunteering at VisionAWare is rewarding because I can help others like myself and I get to work with a great group of people.

Virtual volunteering has been a wonderful experience for me. The things I have learned. The people I have met. The lives that have changed. This is all for the good and all from the comfort of my home. There are creative ways to volunteer. We are still in this pandemic and traditional methods may not be possible but you can still serve your community virtually. Check out the Points of Light database for virtual volunteer suggestions.

Recognizing 5 Black Women in Journalism During Women’s History Month

Stack of Newspapers

When I was taking courses in journalism in college, I learned about women in the news but they were more modern-day women verses historical. Since March is National Women’s History Month, I wanted to honor some women that impacted the industry from the past. Some of the women are not as well-known while others are famous. Regardless, they left a mark on American journalism that is noteworthy because of their courage, self-determination and strength.

Published Stories on Lynchings

The first woman, Ida B. Wells, was a journalist I knew because of her bravery and doggedness in publishing the stories of lynchings. She was born a slave in 1862 in Mississippi. When the Civil War ended, Ida’s parents became politically active setting an example of activism and advocacy she would use later in life. They also believed in the importance of education.  She became a teacher and moved to Memphis after her parents and one sibling died from yellow fever. Ida’s activism kicked off when she filed a lawsuit against a train car company in 1885for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train despite having a ticket. Although she won the case locally, the ruling was later overturned in federal court.

After losing her teaching job Ida turned to journalism. In 1892 when three friends had been lynched by a mob, she began an editorial campaign against lynching. She was doubtful about the reasons Black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns. Her exposure enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. Ida was passionate about highlighting lynchings that she traveled internationally. Abroad, she openly challenged white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching’s. Ida was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States because of her bold and fearless stance on the topic. Despite lack of support, Ida remained active in the women’s rights movement. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage. Although she was in Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as an official founder; but she later became a member of the executive committee. Disenchanted with their white and elite Black leadership, she soon distanced herself from the organization. Late in her career Ida focused on urban reform in Chicago. She died in 1931.

Poet and Journalist  

The second woman was born shortly after the Civil War in New Orleans and later was actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Her name is Alice Dunbar Nelson  and she was a poet, journalist and political activist. Her first collection of stories, poems and essays, Violets, and Other Tales, was published in 1895. She was married to the famous poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar and during their marriage she published a short-story collection, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories. This collection was published as a companion piece to his Poems of Cabin and Field in 1899. The volume helped establish her as a clever portrayer of Creole culture. The marriage didn’t last owing to abuse and alcoholism from her husband yet Alice continued to move forward in her writings and romantic life.

Alice was involved in the Harlem Renaissance, even though she hadn’t lived in New York for many years since before her marriage to Paul and was still living in Delaware at the time. Her poetry, much of it written earlier, was rediscovered through its appearance in journals and collections like The Crisis, Opportunity, Ebony and Topaz. She was also a journalist and wrote a syndicated column, Une Femme Dit, and contributed a wealth of reviews and essays to newspapers and magazines. During the 1920s, she coedited the Wilmington Advocate, a progressive Black newspaper. She also published The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer, a literary anthology.  Although a successful writer, Alice spoke about her challenges as a journalist in her diary. She discussed being denied pay for her articles and issues she had with receiving proper recognition for her work. Her diary was published in 1984 and remains one of the few diaries of a 19th-century African-American woman. Alice died in 1935.

Vintage typewriter on a wooden desk

First to Receive White House Media Credentials

Alice Allison Dunnigan was the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House, the Supreme Court, the State Department and Congress. Born in 1906 in Kentucky, Alice was a bright and smart student, and started writing for newspapers when she was only 13 years old. She began her career as a teacher, but wasn’t satisfied so took journalism classes and wrote fact sheets about information omitted in the school curriculum. Alice knew that to move forward she had to physically move so in 1935, she moved to Louisville. There she worked for Black-owned newspapers like the Louisville Defender. Next, she moved to the Capitol. Initially she worked for the federal government as a civil service worker but still had her eyes on journalism. In 1946 Alice’s ambitions were realized when she became a Washington, DC, correspondent for the Associated Negro Press (ANP), the first Black-owned wire service, supplying more than 100 newspapers nationwide. It was her ticket to covering national politics. She worked mightily on getting her press pass and was approved in 1947, and quickly acquired White House media credentials the following year.

Despite these major achievements Alice still dealt with racism and sexism in the work place. While covering President Truman and President Eisenhower, Alice experienced discrimination. She was one of three African Americans and one of two women in the press corps covering President Truman’s campaign. During her years of covering the White House, she frequently asked questions regarding the escalating civil rights movement. In 1953 Dunnigan was barred from covering a speech given by President Eisenhower in a whites-only theater and was forced to sit with the servants to cover Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft’s funeral. It was not until President Kennedy that she was recognized as a member of the press when asking questions. Under his administration, Alice began a new career as a consultant. President Kennedy appointed her to his Committee on Equal Opportunity designed to level the playing field for Americans seeking federal government jobs. After retiring, Alice self-published her autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. She died in 1983, and in 2013, was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

First to Have Comics Syndicated Nationally  

The next woman started off as a writer but was best known as a cartoonist. She was the first Black woman to have her comics syndicated nationally   across America. Jackie Ormes, born in 1911, used her artistic talent to remark on political and social issues happening at the time. Her portrayal of positive Black folks went against long held stereotypical and negative images. Her first strip in the Pittsburg Courier, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, followed the adventures of Torchy Brown, a young ambitious Black teen who traveled from Mississippi to New York to pursue her dream of performing in the Big Apple. During the 1940s, Jackie worked as a columnist at the Chicago Defender and published her next cartoon strip, Candy, about a funny, hard-working and smart maid. 

The Pittsburgh Courier published a new strip from Jackie after WWII called Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. It centered around two sisters, Ginger, the older, stylish sister, and Patty Jo, the wisecracking, insightful little sister. The strip was so successful it ran for 11 years with more than 500 cartoons. In partnership with the Terri Lee Doll Company, Jackie created the Patty-Jo doll in 1947. This was the first nationally distributed high class Black doll that had real child-like features and an extensive, fashionable wardrobe. The dolls were extremely popular and the wish of many Black and white children. As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Jackie’s comic section was cut. She retired from cartooning and switched to painting. but later, Jackie had to stop painting entirely after developing rheumatoid arthritis. Still, she stayed active in the artist community through her seat on the board of directors of the Usable Museum of African-American History and Art. Jackie died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1985. She was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014.

Newspaper Owner and integrationist

Two pressmen are working in an old fashion pressroom with an old stop-the-presses type press.

Daisy Bates is a name I quickly recognized but not for her journalism background. Whenever I would read about Daisy it was her affiliation with the NAACP and how she advocated for integration with the Little Rock 9 in Arkansas. But before she got heavily involved in school integration, she married a newspaper man and they both ran the Arkansas State Press which focused on the need for social and economic improvements for the Black community. This paper became known for its courageous reporting of acts of police brutality against Black soldiers from a local army camp. Their persistence and drive in spotlighting these abuses led many white business owners to cease placing advertisements in their paper. Regardless of the financial loss, they continued to produce their publication. In 1959 they were forced to close the Arkansas State Press due to threats of racial violence. But Daisy reopened it in 1984 and sold it several years later. For many years Daisy continued her advocacy in education and civil rights involvement. For her work, the state of Arkansas proclaimed the third Monday in February, Daisy Gatson Bates Day. She died in 1999 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom the same year.

All of these women had incredible stories of tenacity, strength and power. As I researched each one there was so much rich history on their lives, I struggled with featuring just the highlights because there was so much more than what appears in this blog post. These women were wives, mothers, sisters, friends and held other roles in their community. These women battled racism, sexism and all kinds of challenges as they tried to do their work as journalists. They were excellent examples and believed deeply in the power of the written word and its impact on their community and society. Journalism was not just a routine 9-to-5 job but a way to evoke social and political change. I can definitely relate and is also a reason why I chose journalism and why I wanted to recognize them this month.