Monday, May 14, 2012

Guest Post - Linda O'Connell

When I began my freelance career thirteen years ago, writing personal essays and submitting for publication made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. It was constricting, like wearing a new pair of shoes that gave me friction blisters. Did I really want the world to know about my personal life? I was overly cautious and concerned about revealing too many personal details. I stepped around issues as though I were tiptoeing through a flower bed. Consequently my essays sounded forced and, or formal. I would either ramble or retreat, fearful that readers would judge me instead of my writing ability.

After several rejections, I decided to step out in faith and write from my heart. And that is when I hit my stride. My inspirational essays have been published in fifteen Chicken Soup for the Soul books and many other anthologies and publications.  

Like an artist who uses paints and brushes to create pictures and evoke emotions, I use words. I make every effort to move the reader with imagery and authentic writing, whether my topic is joyous, sad or humorous. I have learned that my hook sentence is a crucial element. Powerfully written openings make editors want to read on. I begin with punch, pizzazz. In writing an inspirational essay, I make certain that my story has an "aha' moment. I give my reader something of value to take away. A satisfying conclusion reflects my opening paragraph.

In the beginning, I wondered if anyone really cared about my experiences. I discovered that the answer was yes. We all have had similar life experiences. It's the honest emotions conveyed that makes each of our personal experiences unique.  
I am not a gardener, yet I had an inspirational story published in The Ultimate Gardener about my grandchildren planting artificial flowers in Grandpa's garden. I could have begun with the fact that my husband was recovering from foot surgery and was unable to plant on time, but instead I enticed the reader with this attention-grabbing sentence: "Along with a healthy crop of tomatoes and peppers, one season, compassion grew in my husband's garden."  I summed up my personal essay with a reflecting statement. "Thanks to the compassion that grew in Grandpa's garden many years ago, the children now have a deep appreciation for the good earth and the bounty that it produces."

Just as a gardener plants, waters, weeds and cultivates crops, writers plant a seed of thought, fertilize their words, weed the unnecessary in order to produce a personal essay worthy of publication.

Keep in mind, writing for inspirational markets is not the same as writing with a particular religious slant. There are subtle ways to acknowledge God and all His goodness, and I make every effort to do so without specifically targeting a religion.

Linda O'Connell, a preschool teacher writes from her heart and blogs at
Linda is co-creator of Not Your Mother's Book...On Family, one of thirty-five, Publishing Syndicate anthologies in development. Contact her at


Linda O'Connell said...

Thank you so much. I think it is important to share and help other witers. If I can be of any help to your readers, please let them know that they should feel free to contact me. Blessings to you.

Karen Lange said...

It's nice to get to know Linda better! Thanks to you both, Susan and Linda, for sharing this. I love the comparison between the artist and the writer. I have to say I heartily agree!

Happy Monday,

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Great post, and good to know we all have our own insecurities but there is a purpose for what we write. Thanks!

Melanie N. Brasher said...

Great post! I think you're absolutely right about writing from the heart. People do care about our experiences.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Linda - Thank you!

Hi Karen - Yes, I enjoyed Linda's post. We can all learn from her publishing experiences.

Hi Cindy - Writers seem to have more than their share of insecurity.

Hi Melanie - Since I also write devotionals and short articles, personal experiences are great jumping off points.

Susan :)

Debra Mayhew said...

This is such great advice, Linda! Thank you for practical tips on how to make my writing better. I've struggled with the same "tip-toeing" around sensitive issues, but find I really appreciate those writers like you who share the nitty gritty. It gives me the courage to do the same.

DenaNetherton said...

Susan and Linda, I've published a lot of personal essays, too, and sometimes I'm nervous that I'm sharing too much personal stuff. But the lessons I've learned are worth sharing; our experiences are common to others, but the conclusions we come up with aren't always the same.I like to share a biblical world view for those who haven't yet considered Christ as the answer.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Debra -

Welcome! I hope you'll visit again. In addition to guest posts, there are still three drawings this month.

Hi Dena - I'm totally with you on this.

Susan :)

Janet Smart said...

Great advice, Linda. Thanks for sharing what you have learned with us.