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Success Story by Yolanda D. White
Third Annual Spring Writer’s Conference
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, School of Continuing Education
April 16, 2005

Stagnant, scared and unaware were all fairly decent words that described my writing career around March of 2003. I read somewhere that when you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Let’s just say that I enthusiastically had taken that advice to heart. Let me be clear, I didn’t want to “do nothing.” What graduate of a costly journalism school program doesn’t want to be published? I just didn’t know what I could do. I wanted to be a freelance writer, but needed a flier or a pamphlet to show up in my mailbox to get me going.

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And then it arrived. Santa arrived for me in the spring, lugging his laptop, a 32-ounce café latte and an entire resource library of information and instruction.

The first annual spring writer’s festival was to be held April 4–6, 2003. “Cultivating Wisconsin Writers” was the topic and, in my mind, I saw a handwritten insert that read “Yes, this means you, Yolanda.”

For the longest time, I knew that my writing career required cultivating as much as my skills. I wanted to create more stories, better stories and find homes for them all. And like any good parent, I would have done anything, short of opening a brothel, to be a part of that event and learn how to be a better provider for my talents and dreams.

Just as I had hoped, the event was a life-altering experience. Being in the space with others writers who had also been waiting for Santa to come and tell them how to cultivate their writing success was both comforting and inspiring.

The instruction, however, was everything that I needed to get my pen moving. In just one weekend Pegi Taylor helped to lift my writer’s block; Sharon Hart Addy explained what was keeping my children’s manuscript out of the right editor’s hands; Mary-Jeane Smoller Phillips opened the flood gates for me to confess through a personal narrative; and Dasha Kelly nudged me to writing my own ticket into freelancing.

I felt like I had just been shown the combination to a very large safe. I have been “fire hot” ever since.

Needless to say, I was waiting on the sidewalk when Santa came the following year. I had been anticipating the second writers’ festival, but still had lots of questions –and uncertainties—about my writing career. I remember being scared to death to allow Carolyn Kott Washburne view one of my query letters. Thank God she was able to coax it from me because it was an absolute mess. And to think I sent it out that way! But after the conference, I took her suggestions, revised the letter and finally got a response from the editors at Essence Magazine.

At the conference, I felt like I’d been dropped in Kansas somewhere there were writing opportunities all around me, and I didn’t even realize it. I was able to meet the illustrious Kurt Chandler, for instance, and saw how I could transform mundane vacations into spellbinding stories. I also gave myself permission to begin telling stories through more personal narratives, thanks to John Lehman.

I held on to each word from these professionals and from other attendees as if they were the final morsels of food that my life needed to continue. Maybe it isn’t that serious for some of you, but for me it was and is. There was a story inside me a couple years ago, and each time I show up here, I get more knowledgeable, confident and ready to share it. I took notes during dinner when I should have been eating and for a change, listened far more than I talked.

But most importantly, my writing was cultivated and continues to be. I thank UWM and Anne O’Meara greatly, for having the wherewithal to make this happen and for valuing the voice of an aspiring writer like me, who can finally replace the “stagnant, scared and unaware” sign from her mailbox and shine lights on the one that reads “ready, resourceful and writing.”

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Page last modified on April 15, 2005

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