Readers: Butter crème for writers.

Who doesn't like butter creme?

Who doesn’t like butter creme?

She calls herself the piano lady and she came to my house to inspect the 9-inch scratch I accidentally caused across the lid of our grand piano.

And  before she left, she made my day, and it had nothing to do with a miracle fix for the scratch—which she isn’t sure she can repair. She’ll get back to me about that.

When she asked to take my contact information again, I handed her my business card.

She looked at it. “I know this name –,” she said.

“When I heard your message on my machine, I knew I’d heard that name somewhere before, but just couldn’t remember exactly where . . . ”

This, of course, caught my attention, as being a freelance writer for my city’s  newspaper and area magazines kinda’, sorta’ came to mind.

I explained to her about the weekly column that I and another freelance colleague supply to on an alternating basis.

Her expression lit up at that, but still didn’t hit solid pay dirt.

“Did you by any chance publish a book of short stories . . . about Midwest living or something like that? Something about Walking Beans Wasn’t Something You did with Your Dog, or . . .?”

My head and heart smiled. I’m fairly sure I was smiling on the outside, too.

I told her the book wasn’t  solely mine, but that I was one of the contributors and that my story “Small Town Ghosts” closed out the collection.

Pay dirt.

“Oh, yes!” she said, finally connecting all the dots. “I love that book. I can read a few stories at a time, and one of the writers even has the same last name as mine, so I started checking into it to see if we might be related . . .”

We visited briefly about this possible family connection to another of the contributors to the book, and I filled her in on Shapato Publishing and its founder and how these Midwest anthology books came about.

“I don’t remember where my copy of the book came from,” she said, “but you signed it.”

I loved the concept of all these short stories written by Midwesterners about local history, family tales of hardships as well as good times, remembrances of world wars or The Great Depression, coming together under one title. I did everything I could to bring the book to light in my city, and did so with success, finding venues and outlets for selling copies.

I enjoyed doing small group talks promoting the book and speaking on the importance of getting personal family history and stories down on paper, or on tape—any way possible–before the elder ones in our families are gone, taking their stories and impressions with them.

It was time to conclude this piano-investigative appointment—and what I viewed as a godsend of a conversation about a bit of my writing.

She looked at my card again. “So. You are a writer,” she said. “I like the way you spell your name.”

Another conversation commenced about how I switched life gears when I realized the old way of office-world life appeared to point my creative life to an early death.

She shared how she, too, restarted her life after the death of her husband.

“I was too young to not do anything,” she said. “I knew I could learn something new, so I learned how to tune and repair pianos.” That was 13 years ago.

My freelancing brain is always on the prowl. There might be a story here. Ask her. Which I did. She hesitated, but finally said she’d think about it.

I pointed to my card. “Let me know what you decide.”

I hope she’ll locate her equipment for buffing out that unwelcome scratch across my black lacquered beauty. I also hope she’ll let me write an article about her new career one day soon.

But I have to say, to have someone come into my home for one reason, and make the connection back to something I wrote made for a really fine day—piano scratch be hanged.

Writing is good and therapeutic and all that. And I’ve heard people say they write only for themselves. Well—not all of us want to stop there. We want to write for you. We like writing for you.

And we love it when you take the time, not only to read it, but when you will talk with us about it.

And if we get lucky enough to have someone like what we wrote–well—that’s just pure butter crème on our cake.

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. I mean that sincerely. You have other things you can, need or have to read today. So—really. Thank you for today.

The Soft Skills Gauntlet

Do you have these?




Business magazines and newspaper articles are touting the serious dilemma of the missing job skills in the current workforce all over the country. College and tech school graduates are entering the workforce with the hard skills they need to satisfy an employer’s job openings, but surveys and reports are bemoaning the lack of crucial soft skill sets in these workers. 

These include:

  • Communication skill sets, such as interpersonal skills, oral communication, an ability to articulate one’s ideas clearly to those they work with, engage in on-going conversational exchanges—and being tactful. 
  • Dependability. Having a high work ethic, the dedication, timeliness, professionalism, accountability, commitment, a willingness to do the job and being an ethical worker. 
  • Understanding the importance of manners and etiquette with one’s team and peers, as well responding to the clients when providing customer service, and building a rapport with them for increased business growth that comes from satisfied clients. Understanding about conflict resolution as well as the ability to accept change. 
  • Having and utilizing problem solving skills. Thinking critically and listening. Possessing and displaying leadership and presentation skills. 

Isn’t this the stuff we should have started building on from Kindergarten, like showing up for school on time, and turning homework in on time? Or listening when the teacher gives the assignment instructions for the rest of the week? 

He picked that toy up first? I guess he gets to play with it then. I’ll wait my turn. 

Maybe I should volunteer to help the teacher tote all those books from the back of the room after class tonight. 

Yeah, Tommy D is a bully and foul-mouthed moron, but I don’t think it’d be in my best interests (or his) to run over him with my car later tonight.

If you are a freelancing writer, photographer or artist–whatever kind of freelancer you are who works from home, you are more invisible to the outside world than if you have a storefront, gallery or office in a bustling business district.

We freelancers have offices or work corners in our homes. We communicate with the hiring agencies and editors via email, fax or the occasional phone call. 

I have written for editors I’ve never laid eyes on or heard their voice. I submit according to their editorial calendars, or email them proposing a story or article, or I respond to calls for submissions. They respond with a yes, the date the item is due, I go off and write it, submit it on time. They publish it and eventually a paycheck comes. And we never have any actual face time. 

Between you, me and the shadow on the wall–freelance writers must polish their soft skills to the point of blinding in order to not only survive the invisible gauntlet, but move out ahead of the rest of the writing hoard. The dominating view people have of us is from what we write on the page, in the email or how we present over the phone. 

What does this look like, you ask? 

The editor said your article was well written, but you failed to address her original intent, and please rewrite it, will you? Do you:

a)   Verbally rip her a new one,

b)   Tell her you disagree and refuse to rewrite,

c)   Say you don’t have time because you have other, better paying jobs,

d)   Agree to revisit the original instructions, ask more questions, if you need to–and then rewrite. 

You need this last resource interview, but he’s being a pain in the a** because the newspaper misspelled his name last time and misquoted him, and, you writers can really mess things up, can’t you? Do you:

a) Turn defensive and challenge him to try writing the article himself,

b) Look for ways to goad him into a fatal heart attack,

c) Ask him to spell his name for you—again—very, very slowly, making him back up and restart it two or three times,

d) Tell him how much you appreciate his time for the interview, and assure him that you will represent his name and his statements to the very best of your ability. 

Soft skills are your people skills. 

It’s intuitively knowing when to speak up, utilizing tact and civility, and when to shut up. Study up on reading body language. It will take you far in maneuvering the human work world. Watch facial expressions, listen to word choices and tone of voice. Does someone keep checking their watch? Are they fidgeting? 

It’s submitting your projects on time and in the cleanest form your ten digits can produce. Editors and publishers have production schedules. If you want them to like you and use you again, they need to know you aren’t a lagging pain in the butt on every project. 

Your interview resources do have more to do than just sit and give you an interview. They are busy people and business owners with supplies to order, staff to oversee and phones to answer. Be organized with your questions and data needs before the interview, and for heavens’ sake—thank them sincerely when it is over! They don’t have to talk to you, you know. 

No way am I suggesting the freelance writer be anyone’s door mat, but let’s face it—we are freeform workers. No one is going to force us into doing yearly performance reviews so that we can identify our weak points. 

Hold yourself to a high standard of writing, and treat people the way you want to be treated. Examine your work processes and tweak the anemic zones. 

The goal, after all, is to continue living and working the freelancing lifestyle, isn’t it? 

Contributing to the world–for real.

     Sooner or later, anyone who chooses to leave the “real” working world–herein defined as: “being out of their house at least 5 days a week, and in someone else’s office/building area either at a desk or in a cubicle that they don’t own, and receiving a guaranteed paycheck either weekly or bi-weekly— to work from home as a freelance writer IS going to pick up some direct, or not-so-direct, commentary on whether or not they are still “contributing” to the world. 

     Oh, yeah–it’s going to happen. And it will surprise you—especially when it comes out of the mouths of those who call themselves ‘friends’—or even family. 

     I’ve experienced it myself, but as you can probably tell from this blog’s site content—I didn’t let it stop me from continuing to work as a writer. 

     So you can imagine how big I smiled when I received the following hand-written thank you note in today’s mail from a local hospice organization I interviewed and wrote a story about several months back. I quote: 

Ms. Groff, 

Thank you so much for your kind gift of “A Cup of Comfort for the Grieving Heart.” Our social workers have been getting a lot of use out of it, and it has finally made its way back to our library! Your gift, as well as your writing, is much appreciated. 


Julie Martin,

Hospice Librarian

     I had donated one of my copies of the Cup of Comfort book to this hospice library when I realized it would be a good fit for the genuine, selfless work those people do. There are 45 contributing writers in that particular edition, and I’m one of them. The honesty and hope offered in each sad, but encouraging story is more than amazing. 

     This past December I sold a non-fiction story to a magazine with a circulation of over 40,000. The story spoke to the universal hope for peace among the diversity of this world based on a childhood experience that translated into current day life. I have no idea if 40,000 pairs of eyes read the story, but I’m willing to bet a good number of strangers that I’ll never know did take in the thought-energy I put into that writing. It doesn’t matter whether or not I ever get to know. It just matters that I did it. 

     Through the years I’ve put my time in amongst the cubicles of others and earned a pension check that I’m not yet old enough to collect, and trust me when I say—I doubt I ever touched as many lives doing that as I have since “working from home.” 

     This thank you note today tells me just how right my decision to start contributing from home really was.