Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

July 22, 2014
by Andi
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Writers, Expect To Be Paid

because we were women

who met in the time of struggle

- from “Why I Call on Artemis, Not Aphrodite” by Eloise Klein Healy

“I don’t need to be paid.  I’m just doing it because I love it.”  I hear writers say that a lot, and I know exactly what they mean. I love writing, too; I love supporting other writers. I love watching small businesses thrive because, in part, I wrote something that was helpful to their business.  I get it – I understand the way “helping” feeds the soul.

But “helping” doesn’t usually feed the body, at least not the way most of us think of it.  And if we can’t eat or pay our bills or buy clothing that fits, well, then, we will have to turn our time and attention away from our real work – that writing work – and do other things.  Every time we do something for free, we give away not just the time to do that one project but at least double that time because, now, we have to take more time to earn a wage.

So we have to stop. We have to stop giving away our work.  You hear me, right?  Women, you especially, I hope you hear me.

Most of the men I know don’t give away their work because they believe – and they are right – that their work has a fiscal value.  Our culture has taught them confidence in their work and the ability to ask for the pay their deserve.  Our culture has taught women the opposite.  We are supposed to help, not earn.

But culture has also taught many of us that our work does not have fiscal value, that it’s superfluous, gratuitous, excessive.  And many of us writers have believed it.  Even when we see a culture who barely blinks in the face of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s – NASCAR’s most popular driver – $25.6 million salary.  So this lack of pay for writers is not about available resources.  The resources are there.  It’s about cultural value, and for our work to be more valuable in the culture at large, we have to expect to be paid for it.

We have to charge for ALL our work – researching, writing, editing, speaking. (And likewise, we should expect to pay for the work of others – editing, formatting, proofing, marketing, etc.) If other people are being paid to do it, we need to be paid to do it and not in good feelings or gratitude either. When we are able to support ourselves and have surplus time and money, we can accept gratitude as earnings – but until then, we need to be paid in currency – cash or barter.

This isn’t about selfishness or lack of generosity. It’s about self-worth, and it’s about all of us as writers.  The more times one of us does work for me, the more it’s difficult for the rest of us to charge.  If a client can find someone who will not charge, then why hire someone who does?  You see how that works, right?  Your generosity can hurt the rest of our community.

Start charging for your work – begin with a lower rate until you prove your work and build credentials, but still charge something.  Or barter.  I’ve bartered classes for website design and SEO, editing for books (just be aware that bartered items are taxable, just like cash income).  The key is to value your time, your work, AND yourself so that other people value you, too.

Few of us will be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – although I’d love to see a writer get a NASCAR-like endorsement contract – but maybe, just maybe, we can actually make a living doing this work we are called to do.

What do you think about being paid for your work? Do you feel strongly about giving your work away? Why? 

 

Many thanks to Jane Friedman for this post that got me thinking about this idea more fully today. If you don’t know Jane’s great magazine Scratch: Writing+Money+Life, I really recommend it.

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July 21, 2014
by Andi
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When The Work Is Good

I am sitting on my back porch, a book perched on my lap that I am only reading kind of.  In front of me, I can see my blue blanket draped on the grass and 5 people on and around it – a workshop group hard at it.  If I listen, I can hear the murmur of voices from the living room where another group is talking, and every once in a while, I hear laughter from the picnic table on the front patio.

John Francis in Concert

Saturday night, we settled into John Francis’s talent and rested.

The Writer’s Retreat is full in session, and while I am struggling with the idea that I should be doing more, I am learning that the space and the process and the intention of these 12 wonderful people will do all that most be done.  I am learning that as I sit and read on my own porch.

If there is a greater gift in the world, I do not know it.

This weekend, 12 incredible people graced this place with their presence, their work, their words, their tears, and their breath.  They filled the farm with energy and with silence, and in a way I could not have ever imagined, they told me that my dreams were good and right and worthy.  That this place can be a haven, that I can teach and guide without needing a classroom.

The weekend was not perfect – I will learn the amounts of food for this size group, and we will build more space to allow for rain. We will get a dishwasher. I will learn to listen more.

Plus, Wilma would not faint when we asked.  On Saturday night before John Francis gave us a splendid, fire-side concert, we all gathered at the goat pasture to see if we could get beautiful Wilma – our myotonic goat – to faint for us.  We tried – but not too hard – to show her quirky genetics, but Wilma has gotten fierce . . . and she just jogged around before coming over to stand against my thigh and smile.  There are worse things.

Our time together was rich and powerful, hard and complex.  I’m still not at a place where language can wrap around even the most simple parts of it. Yet, I know this – it was good.

I so deeply hope they each carried away something meaningful and true from their time here.  I so hope that they were filled up by their time, that they took joy in the animals and the grass and even in the camping.  I so hope that their writing comes strong and that they stay strong in the commitment to it.  That is my prayer, my dream breathed out as they drove down our driveway.

Yet, for me, the weekend was confirmation, like a blessing laid down by veined, strong hands – yes, this,  this is good work.

What is your good work? What do you dream of doing with your words and talents? What keeps you from doing that work?

 

If you would like to be informed about future retreats and day-long workshops here on the farm, please sign up for my newsletter.  Then, you’ll be in the loop before anyone else. :)

 

 

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July 19, 2014
by Andi
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Write From Your Heart – A Writers Write Interview with Gwendolyn Plano

Gwendolyn Plano is another of these incredible women writers I’ve met online.  I think you’ll appreciate her words and he wisdom, and of course, you’ll want to get a copy of her book. 

1.  Tell me about your latest project.  Letting Go by Gwendolyn Plano

Two years ago, I moved from California to the Ozark Mountains, where I live a short distance from Table Rock Lake. Surrounded by extraordinary beauty, I began to write my first book, Letting Go into Perfect Love, published June 3, 2014. Writing this memoir was an unexpected integrative process for me. At times it tore open my heart, such that I could barely breathe. However, my tears and gasps came and went, because they could. The numbness that had kept my heart frozen in time had vanished.

When any of us come out of the proverbial closet, fear of disclosure can be overwhelming; it certainly was for me. As a college administrator, I was in a very visible role and could not risk being seen as a victim of domestic violence. So it was that I held tight to the secret that was my shame. Once retired, though, and remarried, I was free.

Letting Go into Perfect Love is not a tell-all book; rather, it is a book about a journey—through life’s challenges and heartaches to the one love we all seek. As I wrote, I experienced compassion—for the young me who did the best she could, for the old me who has found peace, and for all humankind. This unexpected sentiment redirected my writing, and quite frankly, my life.

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

I grew up on an isolated farm with six siblings and a plentitude of pets and livestock. The only books available to me were accounts of the saints and Nancy Drew mysteries. This strange mix of religiosity and adventure, fed my dreams of travel to worlds unseen. I was captivated by Fr. Damien and his work among the lepers in Molokai, and I identified with Nancy as she solved one crime after another. Though the breadth of my reading was limited, I discovered a life beyond the stretches of cotton fields outside my bedroom window. And, my diary chronicled my reveries and eventual journeys.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

I begin writing in the very early morning, before daybreak. When I am engaged with a writing project, it awakens me with images and pages of prose. I run after these glimpses of possibility, jotting down what I can remember and then later I wordsmith my writing.

Though this approach may be unconventional, I’m happiest when I chase inspiration.

4. Who are you reading now?

I just completed Jan Morrill’s novel, The Red Kimono and will soon begin Diane Shute’s After Midnight (to be published in September). Both books are historical novels.

Having lived in Japan for five years, I was drawn to Morrill’s book. I particularly appreciated her efforts to expose perspective–of the interned Japanese Americans, of the citizens who lost loved ones at Pearl Harbor, of the collective who became frightened of their neighbors overnight. And, I valued the way in which she exposed the outcome of the characters’ choices.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

Viktor Frankl, Maya Angelou, and Thomas Merton have had a notable impact on my life. In each their own way, they have instilled hope, prompted courage and provided a purposeful direction to life. Though I’ve read several of their books, I’ve selected one for each that I particularly value.

Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning was transformative for me. When I read of the worst of human suffering and saw how even in those hideous situations, we retain the ability to choose our attitude, I was spellbound. Frankl emerged from the concentration camps a loving person, but many did not. He chose one way, others understandably were filled with anger and hate. Frankl showed me that we always have a choice.

Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings left me in tears. Her dignity helped me accept my regrets and shame, and sparked the desire to write. She will always be my mentor, my role model, reminding me what it means to love oneself and others.

Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain resonated with my spiritual longing and with my overall angst. His struggles with depression and doubt echoed my own. And ultimately, as he found his way, I found mine. Though a Trappist monk, he became a companion who, through his books, walked with me on my life journey.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

I’m not sure I have found that “balance.” Social media is relatively new for me, and like many writers I’d prefer focusing exclusively on my own writing.

7. What is a typical day like for you?

My day begins before sunrise, sitting quietly in my office. I listen to Silence, grateful for the time and space, and if beckoned, my heart speaks….so it is that I pray. After a time, I begin to sort through emails, and other written communications. I’m often asked to write reviews, so I alternate reading with writing and otherwise go about the business of living.

8. Describe your dream writing space?

My current writing space would be perfect, if it were not for the stacks of paper on my desk. I am inspired by nature, and just outside my office window, mallard ducks, white-tailed deer, and an array of other creatures freely play. The room has a sitting area between two bookcases, and it is there that I read and meditate.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

I was told I needed to “show” rather than “tell”. I was grateful for this feedback, though I was also lost as to what that meant. I’ve never had a class in creative writing, but I’m slowly learning to write.


10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Be yourself.

When I read, I listen for the author. I want to know the person sitting at his or her desk, and when I discover the author’s heartbeat between the lines of prose, I become a friend or at least a curious comrade. There is a reason a person writes; I try to find that reason, because it directs how I read.

The best wisdom I can share is to write from your heart, see through your heart. Readers like me want to know you, and once known—a friend you will be.

 

Gwendolyn M. Plano spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in New York, Connecticut, and California. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition from San Diego State University, was awarded a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of the State of New York, and then completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Iona College. Finally, she earned a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University. Plano is also a Reiki Master and a Certified LifeLine Practitioner.  Letting Go Into Perfect Love (She Writes Press) is Plano’s first book. You can find Gwendolyn at her website - www.gwenplano.com – and Facebook - www.facebook.com/GwenPlano1.  

 

 

 

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July 18, 2014
by Andi
4 Comments

The Ways I Am Privileged

Of late, I have been having and reading some really good – if hard – conversations about privilege. Some of us are questioning the very idea that we have privilege, and some of us are trying, quite reasonably, to not be the people who have to point out the privileges others do not have.

As one of the most privileged people in the world, I have to say that it’s taken me a long time to come to that realization.  Perhaps there’s something in me that wants to think of myself as an underdog who has overcome, maybe I’m fully steeped in the idea of Manifest Destiny and the individualism of the American culture in which I was raised, maybe I’m just a little slow on the uptake.

But of late, it has become more and more apparent to me that I am privileged in a profound number of ways and that I have a responsibility (note, I don’t say it’s an obligation because that implies requirement; responsibility is about ownership of my experiences) to use that privilege to help bring more people into the realm of these opportunities.

Until we all are treated as equally valuable – in law, in culture, in community – we must fight for equality, and equality requires that we call out privilege when we see it.  So today, I’m putting my singular voice to work to show the ways in which I hold a great deal of privilege, not to shame, not to deny that some of us have experienced a deep lack of privilege, not to claim that privilege in one area means privilege in all – but to simply use my privilege to speak a tiny bit of truth to power. So here are the ways I am privileged.

  • I am white in a nation where being white means I am more accepted and acceptable in most every situation.
  • I am Christian in a nation where Christian is argued – though not actual – to be the foundation of the country.
  • I am middle class and have always been middle class. I have always had choices about how to spend my money.
  • I have not ever been hungry or gone without a safe place to sleep. I have always had clean water.
  • I am American and, thus, part of the most powerful, wealthiest nation in the world.
  • I am straight and gendered as one of the two recognized and  “acceptable” genders in the world.
  • I was born with a physical anatomy that aligns with one of the two “traditional” sexes in the world.
  • I am able-bodied and mentally unimpaired.
  • I grew up with both parents who loved me, provided for me, and never mistreated me.
  • I have not only a college degree but two graduate degrees which provide me with an education and the requisite opportunities most people in the world are denied.
  • I have an internet connection in my home.
  • I speak English as my first language and do not NEED to learn a second language to thrive.
  • I have never been attacked by an animal and, thus, do not have to fear animals when in public or at home.
  • I have never been raped.

Of course, in some ways, I am not privileged. I am a woman in a society that still treats women as lesser in very significant ways. I have been sexually assaulted on several occasions. I am not thin, although that is through my own choices not a health condition or physical environment that makes such a physical appearance impossible.

Here is what I am coming to recognize: my lack of privilege in one area does not preclude my other privileges.  Just because I am a woman does not then cancel out the privilege I experience as a white person, nor does being white make me not experience the lack of privilege that comes with being a woman.  Privileges are part of a complex matrix of opportunities and denials that create privileges while denying others.

I have shown my ignorance many times – by thinking things normative when they are merely privileged, by presuming I have earned much of what has been given to me, by using language that reinforces privilege instead of breaking it down. But I am learning . . . mostly, I am learning to listen. I am learning to hear voices that do not sound like my own, and I am learning that those voices speak of experiences that are every bit as true as my own, even if I don’t relate or understand, even my first reaction to those voices is defensiveness.

Listen, Andi, Listen.  Hold your voice and let others rise.  For hearing, that, too, is a privilege.

What privileges do you possess? What privileges do you find it hard to see yourself having?

 

 

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July 16, 2014
by Andi
2 Comments

The Magic of Simple Things

One of the tasks I typically do here on the farm is to ride Vulcan, the mower.  He and I spend a few hours together every week, and his trusty back gives me a good view around the lay of this place we call home.

My favorite moment of our time is when we pass into the wooded trail above the farmhouse.  I can feel the temperature drop, and there’s a breeze that caresses my face . . . every time, it feels like magic, like gift, like mystery . . . like all the ways the most simple things of life come laden with grace.  The Moss-Lined Trail

I feel this same mystery when I slide into a great book – the story seems to shroud me in another place, secret me away behind a magical waterfall of words.  I felt this way when I read The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time as a child, and while I don’t slip into this place as often as an adult – because of my adult perspective or because adult books I read don’t often carry that level of mystery, I’m not sure – I have felt in Butler’s Kindred and Beard’s The Boys of My Youth.  The book doesn’t have to weave the supernatural in as a plot point or theme, but something about that element seems to allow me to slide away from my own world more easily, like I’ve walked through a tunnel into a place where trees talk and the wind heals.

But the thing is, I believe those things happen here, in this earth, too. But so much of the magic of life is covered up by scar tissue and noise, so much lost to busyness and business, to the things we decide we need to live and not to life itself.  At least, that what I find – that when I am dedicating myself to lists and goals, I slide into a more base, clay-footed version of myself.  Then, the magic slides back, away, receding away from the jagged barrier of “to do” that I create.

When I can let go of “to do” though, my life sings. The trees talk – their leaves rusking against each other in a tongue I can almost understand. The wind spins under the curls at the base of my neck, and the lift brings up the corners of my mouth, too.  The tiny thunder of goat hooves matches my heartbeat, thud for thud.

It’s about a rhythm, about taking time, about doing this thing here now with all I’m worth, and trusting that the next thing will be there ready when it’s time for me to pour myself there.

It could be easy for me to resent Vulcan, to begin to think of him as a burden I carry, hours of my week lost. But instead, I am choosing to count him my trusty steed and guide into the magic and the breath of the mountain on a moss-lined tunnel.

What places or things in your life remind you of the way magic lives? 

 

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