Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writer Spotlight: Pamela M. McBride

What kind of writing do you do?
I do a lot of freelancing, and typically I write about career management topics and military life. I do write other things, but that's the majority of what I do. I have become an expert in both those areas because they've both been a part of my life all of my adult life for the past 20 years. And they also have been my professional interests as well as my passions.

"Work It Girl! The Black Woman's Guide to Professional Success" was the first book I had written, and at the time, I didn't know anything about writing a book so I was really starting from scratch. I've never had a class in writing or anything like that, never majored in anything related to writing in college. I had been a career counselor for a lot of years at the time, and I was introduced to someone who was a writer, and we just started talking. We really hit it off, and it was a really casual conversation one day. It was:
"We should write a book together."
"Oh, yeah, that'd be a great idea!"
"What should we write about?"
"Well, let's write about managing your career, a guide for black women."

And that's really how the whole project started...we did all the research needed, plus I had that area of expertise from being a career counselor...I've been in the career management field now for over 20 years...When we wrote the book, "Work It Girl," we used that phrase to mean using your talents, skills and abilities to get what you want. That was the whole idea of it. We had written 10 chapters in different areas...It covers a lot of things for a lot of people.

The other book, "The Mocha Manual Guide to Military Life," was actually somebody else's idea. For a long time, I said I wanted to write a book specifically for military spouses, but I hadn't done that. I hadn't really even been thinking about it at the time it came up. But the opportunity came where someone had the idea, and they wanted my expertise because basically, it's a part of a series of books, and the person didn't have that specific background but wanted to write about military life. So for me, it was just a wonderful way to partner with someone, to be able to do the project...and being able to write it in the same tone as my first book-- very down-to-earth, sister-friendly-girlfriend; it gives advice, but it's not preachy or teachy. It tells the stories of real-life people who have been there and done that, what they've done to get through it, what things worked for them, what things didn't. It was really a personally written book in that the reader feels like, "I know exactly where this is coming from," and this holds true for both of my books. It was very important to me to be writing the way I might be talking to somebody who was a very good friend of mine.

How did you become interested in writing?
Actually, what happened was, I was working as a career counselor living in North Carolina because I've been a military spouse for 22 years almost. We moved around a lot. [At] one job that I specifically had in North Carolina, a lady I worked with came into my office and said, "Hey, look at this article I had published in the "National Business Employment Weekly," and I read the article, and I thought, Hmm, I could do that! It didn't seem like this big, complicated thing. And she said, "Well, if you want to write an article, I can show you how to write a query letter and tell you a little bit about how to go about it and see what happens." I said, "Sure, let's do it." She showed me, we talked about it, and I got a nice query letter for an idea...The person [I sent it to] was very interested in me doing the article, and I did, and it just went from there. I just kept writing query letters and kept getting the really good feedback so that's really how I got into the freelance writing because at that time, it was for a supplement for the Army Times which means it was in "Army Times," "Navy Times," "Airforce Times," "Marine Times" and sometimes the "Federal Times." I really got hooked because I was passionate about the topic, I knew what I was talking about, I really like to have fun, talk to people and write in a way that's comfortable and entertaining but informative...I branched into other publications like "Essence," I did a cover story for "Black Enterprise," I wrote for "Upscale," lots of different publications. I really got the hang of it to the point where I started writing about things I wasn't even an expert on...I had several assignments a month for years from those publications...that's how I started off as a freelance writer.

I don't know that I really decided to [write a book]; it just kind of happened...but staying with it, I think, has to do with me sharing my passion and helping people get what it is they want by using what they already have. That's important to me...[Also], I really like puzzles, so to start off with an idea and come up with this many tips or that much advice or a great slant to an article, anything like that, and then to put it together, to interview a few people, do my own research and then write something that seems like people would really enjoy reading, it's that putting together the whole puzzle into a finished product. And it's very interesting because for a long time, I thought I would never write a book because the freelance writing that I write for magazines, what I like about it is it had a start and end. It was over, move on the the next one, and I wasn't sure if I could write a whole book, but it happened, one little step at a time, us doing our research and that kind of thing. I guess never say never.

What do you love most about your career?
I think probably since it is not my main source of income, it's not how I earn my living, it gives me the freedom to write what I want to write or not take an assisgnment if it's something I can't do. I don't have to feel pressured to it if it's something I don't want to do. It allows me to be creative but in a helpful way. I love the fact that there's so much to writing because I write for different publications; I write for "Operation Homefront Online" where I mainly end up writing career management types of articles for military spouses, and I also write for Military.com, which is similar in topic. [Additionally], I write a column for a county newspaper, and it's called "Work It Girl!".

What's the most stressful aspect of it?
The most stressful thing about it, I think, is when I don't have the time to write that I really want. I would love to be writing so much more than I do. And that is stressful. The other piece is that I always seem to feel like I'm not creative enough when I'm writing it, and sometimes, that tends to be stressful because I can be sort of perfectionistic about it so I'll keep on, and then keep on, then keep on, and I probably could've finished a long time ago, but I just keep messing with it.

How do you deal with writer's block?
I usually will switch my approach. If I'm blocked, and I'm working on something specific, and I just can't get what I need out of it, I can't get it down, I can't get it right or if I'm just stuck on that particular article, then I just have to leave it alone. I have to walk away from it and come back. Or I get online and do some reading of different articles and kind of relax my brain a little bit, and then something seems to kind of jump back into my mind. Sometimes, I talk it through with someone. I'll call someone up I really trust, and I say,"Hey, okay, this is what I'm doing..." and then allow them to give me some input or an idea or tell them specifically what I'm stuck on, and they can usually come right off the top with something that kind of gets me going again. One of the other things I think hinders me from writing is I really like the process of the research. I really do like the research piece of it where I get to talk to so many different people, the telephone interviews, things like that...but sometimes, I research, and I research, and I research, and I do way more research than what's really needed to finish the piece. So I really have to watch myself as far as that is concerned because I do love the process of learning whatever it is I'm writing about.

What are some of your career goals?
I've [recently] started a blog...It's called 'Pamela M. McBride-- The Work-Life Diva'. There's a section for "Work It Girl Wednesdays," there's another section for "Military Mondays" and a third one called "My Sentiments Exactly"; anything that doesn't fit into [the other] two categories can go there...Another goal when it comes to writing: I would really like to go ahead and start working on my third book, and this time, I don't think I want to partner with anyone on it...I have a couple of different ideas that I've been fleshing out. One of them is still sort of in the career management area; the other, I'm thinking is in the parenting area.

I've got a few speaking engagements I'm in negotiations with right now. I just wound up several this summer, so I'm working on my fall schedule now.

Do you have advice or tips for aspiring writers?
People say, "Well, I really want to be a writer; what should I do?" I have one word for that: Write. Successful writing, I think, is more about discipline than it is about necessarily the talent of writing. If you can write everyday, then you have ideas...I have an idea book that I have on me about 99 percent of the time, and if I don't have it on me, I pull out my Blackberry, and I put it in there. But what I like to do is, first thing in the morning (this is the best time for me; for other people it could be a different time), I just write. Sometimes I have something I want to write about, sometimes I don't. It's just like journaling almost, and some days, I just don't have anything to write, and I really don't want to write. That's when I start off with, "I really have nothing to write today. I'm really not in the mood for this..." [When I first started writing a column in Hawaii], it was the first time I could just write about anything I wanted to...so I started journaling, and what I did was whenever it was time for me to work on my column, I would get that journal, and I would flip through it-- page by page-- until something stood out to me that I could work from. That's how, every single month, I wrote my column: from something throughout the month that I had written down already.

I think that that is probably the most important thing people can do: Write and set goals about a project when you get a project. Once you have a project, you have to set goals because it's almost never going to be just sit down and do it. Most people who are writing, even if they're writing for a living, [have] so many other things going on, and you're never just working on that one project and [have] nothing else going on in your life. To have those writing goals, whether it be to write for 10 minutes a day or whether it be to interview three people this week, it doesn't really matter. It just needs to be specific, measurable goals that you can check off the list.

The other piece of advice...[is] reading. I think it's really important because it can help you with writer's block. It helps expose you to different things, the trending kinds of topics. You can learn from reading. When I wrote my first book, we learned how to do all that by research. I had a copy of "Writer's Market," and I read that thing like you wouldn't believe. And some things, I read over and over in that book, but it is what helped me know what I didn't know. And when there were things that I knew I needed to know, I'd go research it a little bit further, so it gave me a nice place to start from. I also read, and I still do, "Writer's Digest." That gives a whole lot of insight, a whole lot of ideas, it gives techniques and all kinds of stuff that comes in handy. You have to see life through the eyes of a writer. When you see things that spark just a little bit of interest, jot it down because it may be something you want to explore later.

I think having the passion [is also important when it comes to] writing. One of the things I learned very early on from my research when we were doing the first book is that people in the publishing industry have difficulty with authors because they either want to write and not go out and do speaking engagements, book signings or things like that. Or they don't really pay too much attention to the writing because they like the part about going out and doing those things more. I think the best writers, based on my research, are those who are willing to do both. Even if they don't like one part or the other as much, you really have to do both because, I really hate to say it, writing is probably the easy part. It's getting out there and selling...that's probably harder than actually doing the writing itself. So be prepared for how that's going to happen down the road. What things are you willing to do? What kind of money are you willing to spend? What makes you comfortable? What doesn't? Who is your target market? Those kinds of things are really going to become important when you actually finish the book, then the real work begins.

For more info about Pamela and to purchase her books, visit her website, PamelaMcBride.net.

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