Category Archives: Second Careers

Not Writing Because I am a Writer: Self-Doubt as Self Story

Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for this blog as frequently as I once did?

When I started this blog in 2014, I wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined.  Then once every two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Caroline asked me why I am writing less often.

Because I am now a fully accredited writer, I told her. A writer who is enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Writing at a highly regarded university. And the more I write, the more I doubt myself. 

Which I think is something many women have long excelled at. Self-doubt.

I don’t think it I am alone in specializing in self-doubt.

I wrote once about visiting a law school professor during his (always “his” back then) office hours to question my grade on a final exam. I thought it was too high! Can you imagine, I suggested he’d made a mistake in giving me an “A” because I didn’t think I deserved it. The professor politely confirmed that his grade was correct and shooed me out of his office.

Some of us never learn. We think every good “grade” in whatever field we are in must be a mistake on the part of the grade-giver.

That close cousin of self-doubt, self-comparison, has also been visiting me lately. You may share the same unwelcome cousin, those thoughts that compel us to compare ourselves to others.

Though you haven’t asked, I will tell you that I have been getting (unexpectedly IMHO) excellent grades in the writing course I am taking this semester. In “Contemporary American Writers” we read both fiction and non-fiction written by a diverse group of American (duh) writers and then write Critical Response papers analyzing their work from the perspective of a writing craft technique such as character development, point of view or structure.

True Confession:  I had to google the term “Critical Response.”  It did not help when our young adult son told me that he learned how to write a Critical Response when he was in middle school. When I was in middle school, it was then called “junior high” which tells you (a) how long ago it was that I was in junior high and (b) that I never learned to write a Critical Response paper.

But I do now!  I received a very good grade on the first one I wrote. And an even better one on the second.

Does this mean I am a good writer? Or simply a person who is good at following the professors’s directions? Both? Neither? Or someone perennially plagued with self-doubt.

The doubt factor has even crept into my reading for pleasure. I am a rabid reader. The kind of person known to read the back of Kleenex boxes when nothing else is available and is desperate for the printed word.

In the greatest of ironies, now that I am learning to read like a writer, I am enjoying it less! I read a few paragraphs in a much-anticipated novel or a favorite mystery and then start to think:

  • wait, isn’t this too much back story?
  • shouldn’t there be a scene here instead of summary?
  • did the author just make a mistake in her point of view?

Sometimes I want to go back to my old self who was not consciously aware of the distinctions between “alliteration,” “anaphora” and “assonance.”

Perhaps I have also mislaid my writer’s “voice.”

At a meeting of my amazing DC women’s writers group earlier this week, my writer pals unanimously concluded that while my writing has improved (they credit the classes I’ve been taking),  I seem to have lost some of my writer’s voice.

I’m not as snarky, not as sarcastic, not as candid, not as clever. Not as much me. Perhaps because every time I sit down to write I am too damn careful to use every bit of writerly craft I’ve been learning correctly.

Too much focus on craft = loss of authentic voice?

The supportive women in my group reassured me that I will – someday – recover my original voice. That once I get beyond this “wow, look what I learned today” phase of my writing career (which is, by the way, annoying the heck out of my husband), that the craft part will come more naturally and the authentic me part of it will return.

Will I also outgrow the “self-doubt” part as well? Or will I always be that person double-checking the transcript to see if my grade is correct?

I vote for the latter. Self-doubt is not easily outgrown. Look at this way: like many women, I will always –  effortlessly – get an “A” in self-doubt.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Blogging, Books, Communications, Education, Female Friends, Law School, Reading, Second Careers, Women, Writing

New Beginnings and Better Endings

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You don’t have to be Jewish to love the tradition of dipping apple slices into honey.  This Sunday night we celebrated the start of the Jewish New Year – a/k/a Rosh Hashanah (rosh = head; ha = the, shanah = year. thus endeth my Hebrew lesson.)

The custom of dipping apples into honey is to express our hopes for a healthy, sweet and fruitful new year. Since I’m way too old to be the fruitful in the biblical sense, I will settle for a sweet and healthy new year instead.

Unfortunately, the new year in my family has gotten off to a rocky start. My friend Liz reassures me that if your year starts off poorly, it can only get better. I am relying on her prognostication abilities.

Let me also take retract what I just said about not expecting this to be a fruitful year. Not in the sense of producing human offspring (now that would be a miracle) – but in the sense of producing another kind of product. You see, this fall I returned to school. Not just “taking a class” but I made the leap to  formally enroll – with the photo student I.D. to prove it – in a university graduate school program to “pursue” (such a lofty word) a M.A. in Writing.

I am thrilled to be back in school.

If only there had been a high-paying career called “student” where I could have earned a salary to go to class, do homework diligently and study hard for exams, I would have done that instead of becoming a lawyer. Studying is something I find fun. Learning is even better. And wow, am I learning.

The class I am taking is called “Techniques of Fiction”. What, I can hear you say, there are techniques involved in the writing of fiction? Yes there are. Moving right along in the syllabus from character, setting/place, plot and structure to scene v.s summary, point of view, voice, dialogue and description – and I am loving every classroom minute of it.

The great irony is that while I am taking a course in the writing of fiction, my real life seems to be blurring a bit into the territory of fiction. Or what I wish was fiction (e.g. events that really did not happen to me.)

My fabulous (she really is) professor told us that it is acceptable to steal from your real life to write fiction.

That seems like cheating to me. Although right now it seems appealing to base a short story or novel on deeply upsetting real life events where you get to change the way the characters behave, modify the plot and write a totally different ending. That would be a form of therapy, I guess.

But I don’t view writing fiction as therapy. I am taking this Fiction course in order to learn a craft, to become very good at it and to produce work that other people will want to read because it is well-written, not because it is an endless, Nancy-filled, woe-is-me-story.

We all have our problems, don’t we?

If you had looked at me last Saturday night when my husband and I attended the wedding of the daughter of a close friend, when we were dancing to every song the d.j. played, raising our hands in the air to the music and pretending we knew the words, you would likely have never guessed we were going through such rocky stuff in our non-dancing lives. The photos taken will no doubt prove I had a big smile on my face.

And I bet others on the wedding dance floor who were also smiling were doing so despite whatever personal difficulties they are enduring.

So here’s to a sweet, fruitful and healthy new year for all – whatever you celebrate – and also to the reading and writing of fiction.

Now back to my homework.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Female Friends, friendship, Holidays, Jewish, Mental Health, Midlife, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing

Comparatively Speaking: Making Jam or Climbing Mt. Everest?

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Last week I learned how to can.

Laugh, if you must, but my husband, JP, believes I am deficient in the skills of happy homemakers. If you were to go downstairs into the knotty-pine basement of his childhood home, you too would have marveled at the closet shelves where his mother stored her many jars of home-grown pickled peppers, vegetables and lots and lots of tomatoes.

JP’s mother not only worked full-time at a factory but she also did all of the cleaning, cooking and canning. And still does.

(You can read about my wonderful mother-in-law’s feats in the kitchen including making phyllo dough from scratch – yes, you read that right – here: )https://wittyworriedandwolf.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/the-nice-jewish-girl-and-the-macedonian-mother-in-law/

I have neither a knotty-pine basement nor did I, until recently, know how to preserve anything in cans or jars.

That is not to say I am not a good cook. I am, as was my mother, a good cook. I love reading about food, getting new cookbooks as a gifts and trying out new recipes.

But I am not a baker because that requires the careful following of directions which I do not do.

On a whim (and with JP’s strong encouragement), I signed up to take a morning class in canning taught by a lovely young woman in her home kitchen where I learned how to make up a batch of peach/rhubarb/ginger jam to put in clear glass jars.

I was one of four students chopping, peeling and stirring. Perhaps I was the youngest, me not quite Medicare-aged; the other women likely slightly beyond but hard to tell. And since it was a weekday morning and we all live in/near Washington DC, the inevitable question came up as we chatted around the center island of the sunny kitchen:

What do you do now that you are no longer employed?”

(when you are not learning to can, that is.)

Answers:

  • volunteer as a medical doctor in a clinic for indigent patients
  • write about foreign monetary policies
  • play tennis 3x a week
  • go birdwatching
  • hike Mt. Everest

Hike Mt. Everest?

That last one stopped me in my tracks

My own activities have significantly lower (no pun intended) expectations. Just before the morning canning class I was rather thrilled with myself that I managed to remember to:

(a) set my alarm the night before,

(b) take a shower and get dressed on time,

(c) arrive at the canning class only a little bit late.

My efforts to stay on daily task did not compare with a recent hike on Mt. Everest.

My classmate, the ardent hiker, told us about the many countries in which she regularly hikes. She was as warm and friendly as she could be. Yet obviously  far more active, energetic and outdoorsy than I have been or ever will be.

Our lack of knowledge about making jam was perhaps, the only thing we had in common.

Is it ridiculous to still find yourself in comparative mode? To wonder that you are not filling your days with enough productive activities? Not measuring up to the expectations of what post-career/second-stage/semi-retirement life has to offer?

I thought about this a bit after the class ended. It wasn’t jealousy I felt at her list of adventurous activities; it was awe.

My list of excuses for physical slothfulness is a long one. Look, I point, to the left-over from 2x open heart surgeries within 3 months. The weariness and some mild depression are the consequences I live with. And while there are many things I do – and some I even do well – I will not be climbing Mt. Everest soon. Or any other mountain. Ever.

And to those (few) who suggest I should set bigger goals for myself, create a ginormous “bucket” list of ambitious activities, I say “who are you to judge” or something more unprintable than that. To each her own.

But I can take great pleasure in meeting women who do accomplish amazing things in their semi-retirement. Like climbing Mt. Everest.

And also take great pleasure in making jam with them on a sunny weekday morning.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Marriage, Midlife, Relationships, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Travel, Women, Women's Health

Job Hunting at a “Certain Age”: If Your Name Is Barbara, Judy or Susan…

woman thoughbubble

Once again I am tip-toeing into the waters of the job market. Picture a lovely beach with waves rhythmically rolling in. I am the nervous one at the very edge where the tide laps the shore, my feet hardly getting wet, trying to drum up the courage to wade on in.

When asked about my relationship with the job market, I would say – “It’s complicated.”

I worked full-time – lawyering – for 33 years. Then, as my loyal readers know, a 2x dreadful cardiac infection kicked me out of the action. One day I was a law partner at a downtown firm, the next day I was in the ER. It was a sudden transition.

The next phase was what I like to call “semi-retirement” – returning to my childhood roots as writer and sometimes even getting paid for it. Speaking out on young adult mental health and sometimes even getting paid for that. The “gig” economy, that is what it is called these days.

But the time between “gigs’ stretches thin, as many of you likely know –  and as much as I love siting on my deck, listening to the birds sing in my backyard and writing, I do feel obligated o search once again for that wonderful thing we call a “paycheck.” A part-time one that shows up regularly would be quite nice.

Back to the tip-toeing and perhaps the reason for my trepidation.

Last spring I send out a batch of job applications. Heard zippo back from all of them. Maybe something in my resume was not winning over the hiring managers?

Then a close friend of mine called my attention to one particular Want Ad and said – “This is you!” – I applied and was invited for an interview. Two people asking me questions at the same time;  it did not go well from the start. Bad vibes emanating from one of them.  You know how it is when you meet new people; sometimes you we just don’t click. And exactly 24 hours later I received a very short email of rejection.

I wrote about it here:

Was it Something I Said? – – Job Rejection at a “Certain Age”

Who wants to be told “No” when it’s your first time applying for a new job in over 25 years? Job rejection stings – at any age.

And while I do want to focus on my writing (moment of pride: I have finally written an outline for my novel. Yes, just an outline but it is a start), I’d like to be back among the work force some of the time.

But this time I am going to take a different tack before sending resumes out. I am going to stack the cards in my favor.

I have decided to change my first name! Because, face it, “Ageism” is not only alive and well, it is flourishing  – especially if you have a baby boomer birthdate and the name that goes with it.

Think about it –> when an HR person or recruiter opens your resume, the first thing they see is your name, right? And if it is Linda or Carol or Deborah, forget it. Your chances of making it out of the first round instantly diminish.  Because no one under age 55 has that name. Brenda, Diane, Pamela?  You are likely doomed.

Particularly if the HR person/recruiter is named Ashley, Heather or Jessica.

Amber (do forgive me if that is your name; it is lovely but an age-give-away), that nice young VP of human resources, is not a stupid person. She sees that you are named “Nancy” and she knows right away that you are about the same age as her mother. Which is not a good thing.

Who wants to hire their mother? Let alone work in the same office with her.

So before I start applying for a part-time job this time around, I am going to switch the name on my resume from “Nancy” to something that at least sounds 20 years younger.  I’ll start with the statistics kept by the U.S. Social Security Administration and pick a popular name from the late 1970’s or early 1980;s that will prove my youthfulness, in spirit if not in reality.

Hi, my name is Jennifer. Pleased to meet you.”

OR

Hi, I’m Amanda.  Here is a copy of my resume.”

OR

Thank you for interviewing me. My name is Nicole ____.”

Already practicing for that crucial first moment of appraisal when Amber, the VP of human resources meets me in person – and realizes (to her chagrin) that despite my millennial name, I am indeed the same age as her mother.

What do you say Diane, Ellen and Gail? Want to start a movement to fight Ageism in the older women workplace by disguising our real names?

I’m going with Nicole.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Communications, Email, Midlife, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace

Finding Your Own Lane in “Semi-Retirement”

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On a family trip one summer to Vermont we stopped at a familiar ski area to ride its’ alpine slide.

For the uninitiated, an alpine slide starts at the top of a non-snow-covered mountain where you sit on a sled, with a control stick between your knees, and guide your own ride along the twists and turns of a trail down the hill to the bottom.

The best part about this summer slide at Bromley Mountain is that it’s a triple track – described as “North America’s first triple-tracked” alpine slide, 2/3 of a mile long.

Triple Track means (duh) that each rider has three tracks to chose from. As I remember they were labeled – Fast, Medium and Slow – or maybe the three tracks had more clever names like #1 -“Speed For Teens”, #2 – “Active Dads” and #3 – “Moms Who Are Very Cautious.”

Whatever their designations were, I chose – no surprise here  – the latter, the slowest but steady track, kind of my life mantra, expressed on the side of a mountain. My husband and teenage son picked the faster paths, then whizzed down the mountain on their own sleds.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, five minutes later, having applied my own s-l-o-w sled’s brake multiple times as I approached every sharp turn and fast straightaway.

That triple alpine track was made for me – I like to be in charge of my own ride. I love the opportunity to choose my lane. If only life was like that alpine track.

Lately I have been veering from lane to lane.

One day I am happily zooming around with multiple plans and projects, volunteering, lunching with friends, going to meetings. The next I am contentedly at home by myself – along with our trusty terrier at my side – thinking that nothing is better than being able to sit alone in a comfortable chair (I know, don’t sit too long! bad for your health. I get it) – and write.

I did not choose to retire from my law firm at age 60 – that was an unexpected decision made for me by the cardiac authorities.  All of the articles on what to do to plan for retirement were suddenly irrelevant. I was plopped into it whether I liked it or not.

Three years have passed since then and I am still finding my way in what I call “semi-retirement.” Every day I either do too much – or I do too little.  Finding the right balance, the right lane has been tricky.

I would love nothing more than to sit at a desk all day and write. I’ve written a few short stories featuring (what else) witty and worried women in law firm settings.  Do I turn one of my favorite of these short stories into the first chapter of a novel? Or do I keep writing stories until I come up with a collection of them? Haven’t I set aside my childhood dream of becoming a published author for too long?

How ambitious those plans sound. And how self-indulgent. I now have the choice to spend hours doing what I love – while my husband is very much not-retired – (he likes his job, but loving it? you’d have to ask him.)

I  feel responsible to be productive. So some of what I write is non-fiction and earns a (tiny) fee, and I talk and write about young adult mental health and get paid for that too – and next fall, if it happens and I hope it will, I may get to teach a class about the state of mental health on college campuses.

Do these small paying “gigs” add up to giving me the right to stay in the slow lane with my writing projects?

Will the guilt I feel when I sit down to write ever subside?

I think about this as I veer from “semi-retirement” lane to lane and then back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Books, Communications, Empty Nest, Husbands, Law firm life, Lawyers, Marriage, Men vs Women, Moms, Reading, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace, Women's Health, Working Moms, Working Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

Top Five Reasons I Dislike Being a Grandmother

social media and tablet 3dCaught your attention with that headline? Did it grab your interest and make you want to read on? Good! – That was my goal.

Because I plan to tell the students in the Blogging 101 workshop I am leading that writing posts styled as “Lists” or offering “Controversial Opinions” promise to “drive huge traffic” to your blog.

I learned that critical nugget of social media wisdom while researching How to Grow Your Blog Audience – one of the workshop’s topics.

I won’t share with the class, however, that I hate being told what to write to gain the most readers.  Lists? Not my thing. Controversial Opinions? Fine, but only if that is what flows naturally.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading about the craft of writing. I accept (constructive) writing criticism gladly. But advice about content marketing such as:  “Top 10 Tips for Search Engine Optimization” and “Six Proven Ways to Attract Readers To Your Blog”. Titles like that make me gag.

Content does rule. It must be excellent. Better yet, compelling. And as I said in last week’s workshop, your writing voice should sound like your speaking voice. Relatable. Authentic. The Real You.

Tomorrow – assuming the snow plows locate our post-blizzard neighborhood – I will suggest to the students that they certainly can write lists if they are motivated to do so. But if their writing is beach sand dry, no one will read past list item #1. Offer a controversial opinion, yup, you will draw attention – but you may not like the attention you get – particularly if your opinion is irrational or irrelevant.

But – perhaps the social media experts DO know best?

So I will try a little experiment here in this post. Our two-year-old grandson recently stayed with us for several brief nights and very long days. Thus, I fully qualify as an expert, if not on social media, then on grandmother-hood.

I hereby test the social media waters to see if they will shower me with attention based upon the following:

 

Top Five Reasons I Dislike Being a Grandmother”

 

1. Stepping on stray Legos. In bare feet. As painful as it was in my Young Mom days.

 2. Listening to Raffi. “Baby Beluga” may be a fine song the first 5o times you hear it. Less so on number 51 and beyond.
3. Diapers.  Now made with splashier designs and fancier tape mechanisms, but their content remains odiferous. Why hasn’t some brilliant millennial entrepreneur created a scent-absorbing diaper?
4.Being Asked to Spend $$$ to stock up on Organic Everything.  Organic milk, o.k. maybe that makes sense but organic macaroni and cheese, really?
5. Having to tiptoe quietly, please, around our own house lest we wake the Visiting Napping Toddler. He sets all of the rules even though he is the youngest. Is that fair?

 

There, I did it, you read it here first. In a single post I offer both a Top Five List and a Controversial Opinion. That should drive the search engines wild! My blog traffic will likely go through the roof. People from all over the country will be tweeting asking me to visit their city to teach a blogging course. Soon I will be earning zillions with My Top Ten Tips On How To Grow Your Blog Audience.

Or else I will go back to writing exactly what I want to write. I think I will tell my students in Blogging 101 to do just that.

 

 

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Filed under 1st Grandchild, Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Blogging, Communications, daughters, Empty Nest, Parenting, Second Careers, Social Media, Women, Writing

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time! Doing One Thing That Scares You

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Submitting a proposal to give a beginning-level workshop on blogging –  quite cleverly titled “Blogging 1o1” – seemed like a good idea.

At the time.

Last summer when I emailed a suggested course outline to The Writers Center. After all, if I could learn how to start a blog on my own (with some tech help, I admit), then anyone can start a blog. And if you are self-taught, then surely you can teach others?

Or as Eleanor Roosevelt (one of my personal heroes) once said:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Beginning on Tuesday, January 12th at 11:00 a.m. at The Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland (a wonderful non-profit about 10 minutes from my house that offers hundreds of writing workshops), I will be doing one thing that scares me. Not every day. Not sure I could handle that. But on January 12. January 19. January 26. February 2. Two hours on each of four days in early 2016 when I will certainly be scared.

(Or as our 2-year-old grandson recently said before boarding a Big Plane, “I scary.” )

I know just how he feels.

My husband reminds me that when I began this Blog in May 2014 I had no clue as to what I was doing. I had taken two courses at the Writers Center, written a bunch of essays, had a few of them published. After I recovered from the shock of seeing my words in print, I decided I needed a regular venue for my writing.

And hence a Blog was born. Witty Worried and Wolf.  Chosen to sound like the name of a law firm. I practiced law for 33+ years but sadly, the name of the firm was never changed to include mine. Here was my chance to see my name in lights – albeit self-appointed.

What about the “imposter syndrome,” I wondered? The one that regularly haunts me (perhaps you too?), that makes you second-guess your own abilities and accomplishments. Even when something you do receives praise from people who are not relatives.

The imposter syndrome kicked into its highest gear when I was in my second year in law school, having unwisely chosen to take a class called “Unfair Trade”. We would learn about prohibitions on deceptive and unfair trade practices, misleading advertising and the Federal Trade Commission.  Straightforward enough subjects, I thought.

Then mid-way through that fall, the professor brought out the centerpiece of the curriculum – a ridiculously complex, much misunderstood federal law called The Robinson-Patman Act of 1936. The R-P Act was – and is, as far as I know – a rarely used antitrust statute passed in the wake of the Depression to prevent large buyers from getting better prices than buyers with lesser economic power.

Even the Supreme Court called the R-P Act  “complicated and vague”.

I felt as did the Supreme Court.  Adding to my dismay, the professor announced that 50% of our grade on the final exam in “Unfair Trade” would be based on questions relating to the R-P Act.

I was doomed.

Imagine my surprise, when a few weeks into January, our final exam grades were posted, and I saw that I had received a 94 in Unfair Trade.  An “A”! Must be a mistake.

Such was my disbelief that I made an appointment to see the professor during office hours. I recall walking in, sitting down in the chair across from his desk and he asked:

“Miss Wolf, what can I do for you?”

“Ummm, I took Unfair Trade this fall? I just got my grade? And I received an A? I don’t understand?”

(note my early use of female upspeak)

The professor looked at me – this time the disbelief was his.

“Miss Wolf, are you asking me to change your grade? To lower it?”

Two seconds of reflection, then.

“Sorry, Professor, I shouldn’t have come. Thank you for seeing me.”

 

And I hastily retreated from his office.

Since then, I am pleased to report my self-confidence trajectory has improved. I did graduate from law school. I did practice law. I did become a partner. I did have clients who thought highly of my legal abilities. Over the years I repeated these words as a mantra whenever the imposter syndrome threatened to overcome me.

Back to Eleanor Roosevelt. And the one scary thing.

Blogging was scary for me – at first. Writing posts came easily enough, but putting my own words out there into the marketplace of ideas for public examination – what could be more frightening?

I also quiver each time I’m forced to learn the tech stuff that goes along with blogging. What, I asked, when I first got started – are plug-ins, SEO and widgets?

After 20 months of blogging, I know just enough about plug-ins, SEO and widgets to explain what they are; happily leaving it to others who wish to plumb the inner depths of fascinating blog tech tips.

I am much more interested in the words, in helping the participants who sign up for the workshop find their own audiences, craft posts that resonate with them and put them out there for public viewing.

And yes, last week I called the Writers Center to ask if anyone has signed up to take my workshop, always in self-doubt, perhaps secretly hoping that the workshop would be cancelled for lack of interest.

But 12 brave souls will join me, all may be saying as they enter the room at the Writers Center – “I scary” – – – me, too!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Grandchild, Baby Boomers, Blogging, Communications, Law firm life, Law School, Lawyers, Midlife, Second Careers, Social Media, Women, Writing