Vince Reidsma started out as just my friend Martha’s dad, the guy who kept the pool clean so we could swim all summer. Later, when I was in my teens, he was the guy from church who spent a lot of time talking to my parents as their marriage was unraveling. More than 30 years later, as one of my mom’s best friends, he has re-entered my life wearing a new hat: seasoned writer.
I love it when life directs our paths to cross in mysterious and meaningful ways, and thrilled that I can now connect with Vince as a fellow writer and friend. Vince has written a weekly column called “Just a Thought” for the Holland Sentinel newspaper in Michigan for 27 years, so I asked him to share some of his secrets for generating content so faithfully.
And you should know: Vince’s specialty is writing poetry that rhymes, a feat that would overwhelm most writers, including me!
Before we got into the nuts and bolts of pinning verses to a page more than 1,000 times, I asked Vince how he got his start.
It was 1988, he said, and he was working in the yard when his wife Rosemary came out to tell him that the Sentinel was looking for someone who lived near the beach to write about the weather every week. They gave him a thermometer and rain gauge to report his findings. It wasn’t long before he thought, “This is boring. Maybe I can make it rhyme.” He started adding verses, first about the weather, but then about other things. Before long the paper dropped the weather angle and let him wax poetic on whatever he wanted.
Vince writes about morals, character, spiritual matters, some political stuff, people who’ve influenced his life in a positive way, his dad, death, parting, prayer, and sometimes, still, the weather.
“I’ve written to give encouragement, to prick and to probe, to stimulate change if needed, and sometimes just to get a laugh. I am reminded of a quote from Charles Spurgeon when he was asked why he preaches. His answer went, ‘To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.’”
Here are 7 of Vince's secrets for getting it done:
1. Be genuine.
I’ll admit that I sometimes still worry about losing part of my audience because of what I write, especially when I state my position on religious or political topics, but I have to be authentically connected to my message. Most importantly, I share my struggles. My wife Rosemary was paralyzed in an accident several years ago and when I write about her, I always get the most reader response! Something interesting has come into our relationship since the accident: the more Rosemary needs me as her caregiver, the more I find that I need her. She’s a beautiful person to write about and I don’t hold back when writing about our love for each other.
2. Know what the message is.
Once I come up with a good theme, I must develop an opening that will set the scene and I need to determine the closing, or else I will just ramble on and on with no conclusion. I try to acknowledge a dilemma, then bring it around to a nugget or lesson.
3. Know your audience and how you want to connect.
Even though I have a diverse readership and want to please a lot of people, I try to write for an ideal reader. I often have people in town recognize me when I’m out with Rosemary. When they compliment my column, I ask, “What do you like about it? What topics interest you?” This clarifies my goal, which is to get this specific reader to think and to live with purpose instead of by accident, passively going through the motions of living.
4. Keep a notebook and a folder of ideas.
I carry a little notebook with me most of the time and I sleep with a legal pad at my bedside, ready to write anything that comes to mind as a possible future subject. I also walk through my day with an awareness of life going on around me. I am always ready to pause and think about what I just saw, heard, or experienced, and if it would fit into a future column. Too many people I know have interesting things going on around them that go unnoticed.
5. Read before you write.
When I look back at my first attempts at writing, it’s embarrassing. I wanted to write but had little idea as to how. Then along came L. J. Mannes, who was known as the town’s poet. He must have been reading my stuff and thought “This boy needs help!” L. J. and I became friends and would get together from time to time at our house. He gave me his book, “Pop’s Poetry.” I read it over and over again and my writing began to improve (I hope) Once I start reading rhymes, I begin thinking in rhyme. It’s really weird unless you’ve experienced it!
6. Write about where you are in the moment.
As the full-time caregiver for my wife, I often have to slip into another mode if she is having extreme needs to attend to, and my thoughts for the column are difficult to bring to the front again. This is my main cause of writer’s block. Rather than fight against that, I often write about it and have some fun with it, as I did HERE.
7. Don’t waste time with self-doubt.
I don’t listen to that inner voice that says that I am going way over my “pay grade,” or that I don’t have enough experience, or I’m not educated enough, with no college degree to give me credibility. My life is filled with success stories of doing things I was told I couldn’t do. I’m 77 years old and don’t live with very much self-doubt anymore.
To take a page from Vince’s notebook: start where you are, write what you love, commit to it, and you never know where it will lead!
Tammy Letherer is a writing coach who wants to help you find your voice, whether in a blog or a book. She is the author of one novel, Hello Loved Ones, and an upcoming memoir, The Buddha at my Table. Contact her if you have a story that deserves to be shared. Follow her on @TLetherer, Facebook and LinkedIn.