melissa petro

Melissa Petro – Memoir Instructor at Gotham Writers Workshop

In my final class at Gotham Writers Workshop this week, my very smart instructor Melissa Petro, gave us the rundown on getting published. Among the crowd in the room, we listed nearly 40 magazines we might pitch with our articles.

Melissa reminded us, “Know your market!”

When asking Elisa Balabram, a small business coach and classmate, whom she might pitch, the response was “Inc.

Ink?!” Melissa inquired, thinking it was the tattoo (check out her amazing tatts in the photo) periodical (acutally, it’s Inked).

Elisa and I caught eyes as we share a passion for women-owned small businesses. “I-N-C,” we spelled out, almost in unison.

Melissa gave us a huge smile and a nod of recognition that, indeed, we knew our market. And that it was different than hers.

If you’re interested in getting your non-fiction published in magazines, Melissa is offering a Pitch Party in July. You will walk away with a polished cover letter and a ton of inspiration.

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With Sarah Saffian at celebratory dinner on our last night in Iowa

With Sarah Saffian at celebratory dinner on our last night in Iowa – Barbara Henry Photo

Photo by John Langfeld

Old Capitol Iowa City Photo courtesy of John Langfeld

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, mostly for the opportunity to write for a few hours daily, read other’s works and spend time talking about what makes writing worthy of publication. The two words my instructor, Sarah Saffian–author of the beautiful memoir Ithaka–kept coming back to were: entertaining and enlightening. Inform the reader and keep her interested by virtue of the words you choose and the order you put them in. Sound easy?

Try this, which was our 4th assignment: Describe yourself using an object to convey your essence – 300 words. *Mine is below.

The week also offered a chance to meet other writers, both in my workshop and during the 11am classes which featured different teachers daily.

My class of 12 represented three continents–the US, Europe and Asia. The writing was definitely entertaining and enlightening. Here we are with the title of our class to remind us to Get Over Ourself!

Courtesy of Ann Turner

Courtesy of Ann Turner

I’ve now completed three 10-week sessions at Gotham Writers Workshop, plus this week at the Festival. It’s time for me to get over myself and write the damn book!

I just came back from Staples where I bought a ream of 3-hole paper and notebook dividers so that I can print out what I’ve got so far and see what shape it’s in. Even put some order around it.

One of the things Sarah reminded us about, and had multiple quotes in support of, is that writing is terrifying.

If there is a writer who is not filled with fear and trembling as he begins and begins and begins, he has to be an amateur. ~ Alfred Kazin

She also included in her handout a cartoon by David Sipress from The Funny Times picturing a woman behind a desk with a manuscript in her hand (an agent) speaking to an eager would-be writer sitting opposite her. The quote is:

I love the way you weave together the stories of your abused childhood with these delightful recipes for muffins and scones.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of room in between these two quotes for us to write and write and write without taking ourselves too seriously.

This was my submission for Essence:

*You, My Friend, have passed by it on the shelf several times because, even though it’s hand-crafted and of finely grained wood, brighter shinier objects have caught your eye before you’ve had a chance to notice it.

Now that the other items have been removed and toyed with, you see it.

Something about this fine oak box, carved ornamental flowers on each side, attracts you now. You pick it up and run your fingers over its contours and consider it. How well-etched each leaf is, how singular each petal. The smooth, sanded surfaces bordering the intricate designs contrast the raised shapes and offer respite.

On one side is a patinaed brass arm, bent like an “L”  with an ivory knob on the end, held in place by an ebony stud.

You turn the device and music plays. You knew to expect that from your ordinary jack-in-the-box, but the piece that comes out of this one is softer, less tinny than its counterparts. As you turn the crank, you listen to a song you’ve never heard before, yet you are attracted to its notes instantly. It’s familiar and still entirely new to your ear. Its melody calls to you.

Although you know what’s coming, you understand that if you cease your part of the game, it won’t go on without you. You continue to wind the lever as you get more and more excited, waiting for the climactic moment ahead.

The song ends, the lid opens, and out of the box springs an energized countenance of softness, color and expression. There is no clown face, nor the polka-dotted starched coil of cotton you had expected.

No. From this box bursts forth something else–a satin wrapped, periwinkle form, with a face of porcelain crowned by black and silver coiled threads. You don’t want to push it back down into that box.

Rather, you cherish the moment, savor your find and hold her dearly to your heart.

Jenn T. Grace Professional Lesbian

Jenn T. Grace
Professional Lesbian

Yes. You read that right. It’s on Jenn’s business card and all of her educational materials. She helps people, brilliantly in my experience, become allies to the LGBT community, particularly in the business world.

I bought two of her books, But You Don’t Look Gay… and No, Wait…You Do Look Gay! whose subtitle is the wisdom behind her efforts: The 7 Mistakes Preventing You from Selling to the $830 Billion LGBT Market.

In a non-judgmental, fact-based conversation, Jenn explained to my Mastermind members the demographics, buying power and brand loyalty of this enormous market. More important, she gave us tips and strategies for how to show interest in and support of LGBTs.

She gave us an interesting exercise before she began speaking. On a sheet of paper numbered 1-8, she invited us to write down the labels/characteristics, that define us. As she put it, what makes you, you? Not one of us included ‘straight’ on our lists. The conversation engaged rapidly after that. I’ll leave it to you to pick up Jenn’s books for the importance of that distinction.

I’m grateful to have a variety of experts come and address the outstanding women who meet with me monthly to focus on their business growth. We were truly fortunate to have Jenn’s enlightening subject matter to inspire us in June.

Iowa Summer Writers Festival Workshop

I know that I need to take time away from my day-to-day life to get perspective, try something different, and ‘change the walls’ as one friend says. That’s why I signed up to attend the Iowa Summer Writers Festival way back in mid-April when the weather was still upon us, and I wanted to have something to look forward to.

I leave Saturday. The class I’ve enrolled in, Get Over Yourself! Rapid-Fire Memoir, begins Sunday evening and is a weeklong intensive.

I set money aside each month for travel and education. It’s a treat for me to think about how and where to spend that chunk. When I got an email about the upcoming Iowa program, and had recently watched an episode of GIRLS with Hannah attending school in Iowa, the deal was sealed.

While there, I’ll be writing daily for hours each morning, attending my class each afternoon, and participating in Festival activities, readings and other forms of entertainment in the evenings. What I won’t be doing is checking emails, worrying about meals, marketing or miscellany. For one lovely week.

I intend to return home restored, invigorated and inspired.

I will bring all that good renewed energy to my next big thing. I’m offering a retreat for women who also want to get perspective, try something different and ‘change the walls’ for a day. We will meet on July 23 from 10am – 5pm. The day will include:

~a guided journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, time journaling and sharing, and play for the sake of creating new awarenesses~

This isn’t up on my website…yet. So if you want the early bird rate ($295–it goes up to $350 on June 23), give me a call (347-878-6096) or shoot me an email (jane@janepollak.com) with your intention. There are only 10 spaces, and four of them are already filled.

 

 

Have you ever dreaded making a call to complain about a service or product and feared that not only would you not receive satisfaction, but that you’d feel you wasted your time in the effort? I forced myself to dial up the help department at SendOutCards. It’s a company I’ve been involved with for many years now where I’ve had a decent experience, but not Nordstrom level.

I’d sent out a card to the fabulous women who attended my winter retreat in February inviting them to get first ‘dibs’ on my summer retreat. I wanted to touch their hearts and created a collage of their images that looked like this:

Winter Retreat Participants

Winter Retreat Participants

But, fortunately (or not), one recipient texted me and also sent me the image of what (I thought) I’d sent. “I just got your invitation in the mail and what a wow you created! I am thinking though that the card didn’t come out quite the same way you designed it. Kind of like when you send flowers to someone and you never know what they look like when they arrive.”

Botched Card

Botched Card

You can see, it was not as intended. Fortunately, this group has a private Facebook page where I got to post a copy of what it should have looked like. Amazingly, these very generous souls thought I was trying to be artistic and liked the funky factor.

When I sent this image to Tammy at SendOutCards, she gasped. “We will refund your points (price per card) and expenses (the cost of postage) and extend 70 courtesy points to you as well for the mishap.” I was completely thrilled.

She’d never seen anything quite like this happen before and was going to check other cards that went out on that date received by less responsive/awesome (my word choice) recipients. We did agree that Mercury Retrograde may have played a role.

I was going to drop it because my audience was so kind and understanding and saw the original intent displayed. But I’m so glad I followed through and took care of the issue. No bad taste in my mouth for SendOutCards. Quite the opposite! I can’t wait to design another batch for my summer retreaters this July!

I just committed to my goal buddy that I would deal with my pile. It’s been sitting on my desk for over a week, and it’s gotten larger.

Jane’s Current Pile

I’ll never forget the way a friend of mine categorized her to-do list:

  • easy
  • hard
  • hard
  • scary

I believe that’s what keeps us from even looking at the “easy”…that last one: SCARY!

Long, also.

For the sake of transparency and learning, I’m going to handle each item and write down (or do) what’s required. Here goes:

  1. The Playwrights Horizons newsletter reminding me that I want to write a blog post about The Qualms which I recently saw there and loved. In this mailing are comments by the Artistic Director and the playwright that I want to study before writing about.
  2. Notes written during a coaching session that need to be filed – Easy. Done.
  3. Car rental receipt – dumped
  4. Notes taken during my college reunion when a writers panel of classmates shared their wisdom – deciding what to follow up on: research Nancy Pearl (on calendar); look up/purchase A Martian Wouldn’t Say That (Done – too expensive)
  5. Record another note from my reunion to share with others – The purpose of liberal arts is to learn how to not fear what we don’t understand.
  6. Images and text from a recent spiritual reading – Filed.
  7. Notes from a session with a prospective client who didn’t opt in. Discarded.
  8. Yellow sticky to congratulate a friend on her recent certification. Done.
  9. Notes from a phone call with old friends/distant relatives of my family. Still feel guilty when I look at these. Filed in tickler for when I get back from Iowa.
  10. Notes from AARP convention that I want to blog about. Filed in tickler. I really want to do this…
  11. Text from marketing company on reaching out to my groups about continuing. Saved as file; paper discarded.
  12. Random notes for memoir – now too out of context to use. Discarded.
  13. Feedback pages from my memoir class. Filed.
  14. Folder with message about how to storyboard – Note on calendar to follow up with friend who suggested a system.
  15. Marketing piece from investment I own. Placed with airplane reading for flight to Iowa.
  16. Receipts – filed
  17. Colonoscopy reminder – called to find out if I really need to have one now since I remembered being told I could wait 10 years, and it’s only 5. Off my plate for now.
  18. Dental Insurance Plan – decided to not take advantage of this. Discarded.
  19. Notes on copy of memoir piece shared with writers group. List of restaurants we’d like to celebrate our 1 year anniversary at. Sent email to group for confirmation.
  20. Wrote Batard on my calendar wish list (as highly recommended by fellow writer)
  21. Copy of memoir submission (10pp) with classmate’s comments. Read and tossed.
  22. Copy of homework assignment (memoir) with instructor’s comments. Filed.
  23. Hand-written draft of in-class assignment. Discarded.
  24. Envelope with memorabilia – camp photos – Scanned and discarded
  25. Large sheet with memoir timeline draft. Filed.
  26. Pages I’ve been looking for! New project. Put in tickler for deeper consideration and work.
  27. Notes from last meeting of my personal mastermind group. Read and discarded.
  28. Photos of outfits Scarlett put together for me. Added to book I keep in top bureau drawer.
  29. Homework assignment from memoir class with instructor’s comments. Read and discarded.
  30. Info sheet from Playwrights Horizons. Filed.

I had no idea when I started this process that there were 30 things to address. Even so, I dealt with them all and accomplished my goal to blog about the mission in just over an hour. It always feels more daunting than the actuality of it. This is a reminder to just do it.

Liz Ball hosted our 14th Anniversary event last night

Liz Ball hosted our 14th Anniversary event last night

Liz Ball of TFI Envision hosted 20+ Artsy Girls at her magnificent home in Stamford last night. Our quarterly events are occasions for women who are nationally recognized for their creative talents to gather, be inspired and share successes.

An hour or so into our networking I ask each woman to introduce herself and present a brag, something she’s proud to share with the group. Last night these ranged from Kathryn Doherty’s announcement of her winning first prize for painting in a French competition to Ilene Strizver‘s explanation of her font designs for seniors.

Winning painter Kathryn Doherty in France

Winning painter Kathryn Doherty in France

One introduction that got a huge laugh was from a children’s book illustrator (I’ll allow her to break her own anonymity if she wishes…) that she was in peri-retirement. I’m pretty sure you’d have to be a woman to appreciate the brilliance of this statement.

Two of our members recently attended BEA and bragged about that experience.

Page McBrier Morrison and Marisabina Russo at Book Expo

Page McBrier Morrison and Marisabina Russo at Book Expo

We also benefited from a talk that Liz, President and Creative Director of TFI, presented on organizing files and labeling. This doesn’t sound nearly as inspired as it truly was. We were a rapt audience because everyone there understood how vital it is to be clear about how we save our creative work. JPEG1 or Opus8 isn’t going to cut it when the gallery owner or editor is receiving files from multiple creatives.

I started this group in July of 2001. I had written a letter (pre-email!) and sent it in stamped envelopes to a few dozen of my most celebrated colleagues. Here’s how I put it:

For years now I’ve wanted to get all my creative friends together for a soiree, but thought I’d first need to redecorate, learn gourmet cooking and install surround sound in my living room. Bag that! Instead, how about joining me at my favorite restaurant for an evening of great women, great food and creative exchanges?

There were 20 of us that first night. At the end of our time together, Beverly Ellsley pulled me aside and said, “We have to keep doing this. Let’s have the next one at my house,” which we did 3 months later. We’ve been meeting quarterly ever since. Beverly has hosted us at least a dozen times!

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I leave these evenings completely filled up by the beauty of my dear friends, the intimacy of our connections and the excitement that is generated when we’re together.

I’m so grateful to Liz for her hospitality and generosity in hosting us, and to my dear Artsy Girls who thrill me more each time we meet.

 

 

 

Do you know this woman?

Three times this week dear people in my life have shared how they got lost in a pile somewhere. These are highly accomplished professionals in their fields who chose NOT to “use” someone who might have helped them get to the top of the pile. They wanted their resume, application or phone call (fill in the blank for yourself) to stand on its own to get the attention of the party they were seeking. In no case was that the outcome.

That’s because it doesn’t happen that way. Even though we think it should and are totally qualified. there’s too much other stuff competing for everyone’s attention.

Case in point: I was reading the Times review this morning about Spy, the new Melissa McCarthy comedy and came to a paragraph praising Miranda Hart. The name sounded a bit familiar, but I think I was confusing her with Miranda July, and when it didn’t match up with my memory, I stopped reading.

It wasn’t until the critic wrote:

and the marvelous Miranda Hart (Chummy to all you “Call the Midwife” fans out there)

that I began to pay attention and definitely want to go. That’s how much I love the Chummy character. But, if he hadn’t mentioned a reference about Miranda Hart, I’d have tossed the review aside–as those reading your resumes, applications and appointments might without someone’s endorsement or say-so.

Bottom line: If you have people who are willing to put your name at the top of someone’s list, let them. Plus, it makes them feel good when you get the job, into the program, or book the specialist you want to see.

 

 

 

 

Helen Hunt – Academy Award Winning Actress

I got to watch a segment of CBS Sunday Morning featuring this Academy Award winner and television actress Helen Hunt who, before listening to her interview, I would’ve thought was turning down offers, working to her heart’s content and completely satisfied with her A-list status. What a surprise to find out that she is just like me in many ways.

As she so eloquently put it:

I just want to feel not alone. I want to feel like, Her too! He feels that way, too! So when I can work in a way that does that for anybody, that’s a good thing.

Whenever I see her in movies, I feel that way. Her too! I love her vulnerability which comes out in her roles and shone during her interview. Who knew that she was the 4th choice for As Good As It Gets opposite Jack Nicholson (and won the Oscar for that role!) or that she’s the 4th choice “a lot.”

All I’ve ever seen is a magnificent woman walking the red carpet, posing against logo-laden screens and smiling broadly.

But behind the scenes is a different story. Although often considered for roles in plum features, she was considered too old, too young, too pretty, not pretty enough or not virginal enough.

“They were wrong in their assessment of me!” she laughed.

Here’s how I most identify with her. Throughout it all, her two key ingredients have been “not giving up and begging.” To admit that and to have that as a strategy endeared me to her more than any awards could have. Thank you, Helen Hunt!

Would you like to meet 10 of the most fearless women I know? Click here to sign up for my free report that will ignite your courage, creativity and determination.

 

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