I have some exciting news to share! About a month ago, I received the message that my essay, “The Courage to Rekindle a Dream,” would be published in The Penman Review. And, sure enough, on December 23rd, it was on their front page! I cannot begin to describe how I feel right now because I am still in shock (in a good way, of course!)—being published two days before Christmas makes it even better!
I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to write about how I overcame college and career-changing obstacles, but I never got around to it. Until last summer when I couldn’t do anything but write.
After being diagnosed with COVID and another common virus, I began writing this essay. Having both illnesses at the same time hit me very hard. Last June, I was in the hospital and missed nearly three weeks of work. Since then, I’ve spent the second half of 2022 recovering from lung and heart inflammation, among other complications. I spent months in bed, barely able to walk to my mailbox or cook for myself. What else is a bedridden writer to do? Write, of course.
This essay is not only a story of my early adult life struggles but also a piece of work I poured my heart into while in bed, very sick. And it happens to be my first officially published piece of writing too! This is a huge accomplishment, but it also means everything to me to share my life with the world. It’s been a long journey to get to where I am today. In my twenties and early thirties, I had dreams of teaching and writing, and now, here I am. Dreams, stories, and publication, in that order!
Last Friday, one of my students gave me a Christmas card. Inside the card, she wrote: “Dear Ms. Ward, I hope your holidays are amazing and healthy! I do hope to continue to thrive in your class. I really believe you can fulfill your dream to be a writer!” I haven’t told my student yet, but I was published the same day she gave me that card. It is so incredibly important for others to support us, and I’m glad she already knows that. And that’s what my essay is all about—dreams, determination, and believing the impossible is possible. So, with all that said, have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2023!
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If you want to get your freelance writing business off the ground but aren’t sure where to start, you aren’t alone. Starting a business can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. There’s a lot of flexibility that comes with working for yourself, but with that freedom comes many strange twists and turns. Like venturing into any unfamiliar area, it can be tricky. Where does someone begin? Well, the first thing is to have an idea of your goals and where you would like to end up. With that said, I suggest taking three essential steps to establish your freelance business.
Determining a Business Structure
Understanding how your business will operate is crucial to establishing a freelance business. Will you find someone to partner with? Will you work alone? Those seem like basic questions, but they are big decisions that will significantly impact your business’ labor, profits, and other aspects. Sara Horowitz, the author of The Freelancer’s Bible, urges readers to consider that the choices we make about business structure will affect record keeping, tax procedures, and personal liability, among other things…(262). Seeing which model also fits best with your vision (sole proprietor, partnership, or LLC) will help you figure out what makes the most sense in terms of time, finances, maintenance, and taxes. Whether you are just beginning to establish this business or reconsidering your current model, a business structure will not only influence everything you do in the first few months, but it will also have a significant long-term impact.
Some questions to consider:
Will you work alone?
Will you work with a partner?
Will you establish yourself as a sole proprietor or LLC (Limited Liability Company)?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of registering as an LLC?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of registering as a sole proprietor?
Will you use your name as your business name?
Writing a Micro Business Plan
Writing a micro business plan is basically a small business plan. This will outline what your business will offer, how it will make you money, and who your customers will be. Sara Horowitz mentions determining the tactical things you’ll do in the first year or two (261). That means making sure to include a list of target clients, knowing how you will communicate with them, building a portfolio of work or writing samples, and the professional goals you hope to achieve. As you learn about the industry, other aspects of business can always be added later. But writing out a rough outline of what you will be doing in the first couple of years will be a solid place to start.
Some questions to consider:
Who will be my target audience or consumers?
How will I communicate with my consumers (email, phone, etc.)?
What will be my hours of operation?
How will I secure the funds to start this business?
How will I charge clients for my work? In other words, will you establish an hourly rate or request a specific amount for the entire project?
What will I include in my writing portfolio?
How will I market and brand myself?
What do I hope to achieve in the first three months of operating my business?
What do I hope to achieve within the first year of operating my business?
Understanding How You Will Support Your Business
Supporting yourself financially is another crucial step toward starting a freelance business. If you are working full-time, perhaps your income from your day job will provide enough support to pursue your freelancing business before it takes off. I teach English and Drama classes, Monday through Friday. I am a public school teacher and do not earn a high salary. However, my teaching job has provided me with a steady income, which counts for a lot. For me, it made the most sense to continue teaching and let this be my primary source of income—supporting me personally and funding my freelance business. Having multiple income streams is an excellent approach if you can manage it. You will survive the dry spells when you have less freelance work or no work at all. Having multiple income streams means having security and something to fall back on.
Some questions to consider:
How will I support myself while building my business?
How much capital do I need?
How will I secure the funds?
Will I develop multiple income streams? If so, how?
Will I have enough money to advertise on social media and other platforms?
Where do I want to be financially five years from now?
I suggest diving deep into the big parts of your business, like money, structure, and a plan. The other smaller pieces can be figured out later on. What new business ventures will you embark on in 2023?
Horowitz, Sara. The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams on Your Terms. Workman Publishing Co., 2012.
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When I first read Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “Pumpkin Head,” I was so frightened that I didn’t want to be in my apartment alone afterward. Her stories have scared me before, but this experience was quite unsettling. As with most horror stories, the shock wore off with time, yet her characters continued to haunt me long after meeting them on the page. Perhaps it was her female protagonist — Hadley — whom I identified with so much that I could not forget her vulnerability as a woman living alone. As I sit here in my candle-lit apartment listening to the roll of distant thunder, I remember Oates’ story a decade later as we approach Halloween — the season of pumpkins and stories that make our skin crawl.
Oates’ story opens with Hadley, a recently widowed woman who lives alone. She is startled in front of her house by “a tall male scarecrow figure with a misshapen Halloween pumpkin for a head.” Although the initial image of this man, Anton, is frightening, the story reveals much more. Hadley and Anton have many layers the reader can peel back as the tension mounts. The further I read, the more engrossed I became with both characters, each an outsider in their own way. Although Anton eventually becomes a threat to Hadley, this story is about how she deals with her new life alone and the ghost of grief.
The History of the Jack-O-Lantern
Looking at Oates’ character Anton and the image of the pumpkin head made me think of the jack-o-lantern and its origin. According to history.com, the face of the jack-o-lantern derives from an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack.” As the legend is told, Jack played a trick on the devil by inviting him to have a drink, then turned him into a coin to avoid paying. Aptly nicknamed “stingy,” Jack decided to keep the coin beside a silver cross so the devil couldn’t return. Later, he tricked the devil again into climbing up a tree and held him captive by carving the sign of the cross. His behavior upset the devil and God; therefore, he was never welcomed into heaven or hell. As a result, he roamed the earth with only a turnip to light his path. People began placing jack-o-lanterns in front of their homes to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away.
There are some striking similarities between the Irish myth and the role reversal in Oates’ story that develops. In “Pumpkin Head,” Anton gives a jack-o-lantern to Hadley, later joining her for a drink. Like the devil, Hadley is deceived and finds herself in a situation that is not only hard to walk away from but quite dangerous. It is, of course, ironic that — a jack-o-lantern — believed to ward off evil is given to her by someone who represents it himself. In the midst of all of this, I also thought of Hadley as a native-born resident. As an American woman, her character may hold some power and advantages in society that Anton, a European immigrant, desires. Looking back at the origins of the jack-o-lantern story, Jack seemed to be seeking some power which can be seen in Anton’s behavior too.
“Pumpkin Head” appeared in The New Yorker in 2009 and is also included in Oates’ book Sourland. If you’ve read her stories, you know they are quite dark and often violent. Take a look at “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” and you might see some similarities here — one being a female protagonist isolated and victimized in her own home. They are two very different stories but do share some likenesses. Nevertheless, we read her work in anticipation that something very unpleasant and twisted will happen. This story delivers, and although it did leave me feeling quite uneasy, I would read it again. I have heard people say they didn’t like this story, particularly for its violence and the message they thought it communicated. It depends on how you read it, I suppose. But any piece of literature that elicits that much emotion — whether good or bad — is a powerful story.
In her story, Oates communicates universal themes of loss, death, and vulnerability, which may be more frightening than some of the images we associate with Halloween. Hadley could be any woman struggling to accept the death of her husband and the strange, new life she has found herself in. Oates’ story is incredibly haunting, weaving traditions of folklore and terror with an ending that cannot be forgotten.
Hey there! Thanks for reading! The original article was publish in Vocal Media. If you enjoyed this blog post, please let me know by sending a like or comment. You can also subscribe to read future blog posts here on the upper right side of this page. Connect with me on Twitter: @jennwardwrites. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Before I became sick with COVID last May, I loved to walk and do interval jogging. Fitness has always been a big part of my life. I did it all—aerial yoga, Zumba, dance yoga, HIIT, cardio kickboxing, vinyasa yoga, cheerleading, track, aerobics, Pilates, Peloton, personal training, and of course, the treadmill. Unfortunately, I haven’t recovered enough yet to do these intense workouts. I am grateful that I seem to be improving and can go for short walks. Who knows? Full recovery might not be too far off in the distance.
One of the benefits of walking or running when you’re a writer is that it gives you time to think. Not only are you doing something great for your body, but you are giving your brain a workout too. I like to use this time—my short walks—to daydream about characters and ideas for stories. It often helps me cope with getting stuck.
Let your mind wander during your next walk or run while listening to these songs from my music library. I hope they give you some creative energy. Full disclosure: If you happen to hate pop music, you are not going to like this list.
1. Circles by Post Malone
Who doesn’t like a song with a heartbreak theme? Compared to the rest of his music, this tune from his album Hollywood’s Bleeding is much softer with its melody and words. I could argue this is his best song ever, but I prefer a much lighter sound. I will say this is the perfect pop song for many reasons.
2. We’re Good by Dua Lipa
This is another favorite song I’ve listened to a lot—during my car rides to and from work, in addition to walking. A similar heartbreak theme is found in Post Malone’s “Circles.” It’s another song that captures the failure of relationships and the unhealthy patterns that lead to pain. I guess I can’t get enough of these toxic relationship songs. I love the lyrics…what else can I say?
3. As the World Caves In by Sarah Cothran
A slower song that has made it onto this list but a good one. Cothran sings a song showing a couple spending their last night together as the world ends. The lyrics are beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time. The world may not have survived, but at least they had each other.
4. As It Was by Harry Styles
This is a more upbeat song to switch things up. It also sits at the number three spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Although the melody is happy, the lyrics reveal a mix of emotions hinting at a sad undertone. Like so many things in life, feelings are fickle, and we struggle to make sense of them. Harry Styles’ song gets how change in life isn’t easy.
5. American by Lana Del Rey
Bringing it back to a slower rhythm, Lana Del Rey’s “American” is one of several great songs from her album Paradise. I don’t know about you, but I’ve played the hell out of this album over the years. Not only does Lana Del Rey have impeccable style, but her voice is incredible too. Released a decade ago, the song’s lyrics reference Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis, which help create its nostalgic mood.
6. Modern Love by David Bowie
Back to an up-tempo song with darker lyrics, David Bowie’s “Modern Love” is another favorite I’m adding to the list. I had to include at least one song from the 80s, which is arguably the best decade for music. I can’t listen to 80s music and not think of being a little kid. There are different ways to interpret Bowie’s words, but it seems that the man in his song is looking for something with substance and only finds shallow relationships. Therefore, he loses his faith in modern love. Hmm…something a lot of us can probably relate to. We may never be able to figure certain things out, but at least we can try.
7. Riptide by Vance Joy
Vance Joy sings about a woman he admires, but it’s much more than a simple love song. This song is a blend of words and lines that seem unrelated throughout, but somehow, they all fit together. I have found myself thinking about this song hours after I’ve listened to it. The melody is simple yet, catchy and fun. The lyrics reveal what sounds like a turbulent relationship while his lady is “taken away to the dark side.” But in the end, it seems he loves her, nonetheless.
8. Rooster by Alice in Chains
Let us wind down with a slow-building alternative rock song from the 90s– “Rooster” by Alice in Chains. This song is worth listening to, even if 90s rock isn’t your thing. Its lyrics reveal the singer’s interpretation of his father’s experience fighting in Vietnam. The struggles his father faced are something I’m sure he could sense as a child. At a little over six minutes long, it’s a good song to listen to while cooling down at the end of a workout.
There it is — eight interesting songs you can add to your workout playlist (if you haven’t already). I would have made this list ten, but eight happens to be my favorite number.
Hey there! Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, please let me know by sending a like or comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts! The original blog post was published on Vocal Media and featured as a top story in their Beat community. This story is also available on Medium. If you wish, you can subscribe to future blog posts here if you scroll to the top of the sidebar to your right.