Tarred and feathered

2011 ACFW Conference in St. Louis

For the last month I’ve been preaching to my Motlow English students, “Voice, voice, voice. You’ve got to find your voice. We English teachers are KILLING your writing because we’re taking away your voice. We’re making you all sound the same with your generically proper English.”

Yes, I know my students MUST learn to write proper academic papers, but they are so concerned about not using contractions and not using fragments that they’re losing their voices.

Why is that a problem? Because when they write their scholarship essays, their essays won’t stand out from the others. They will all sound the same.

Well, duh. Smack me in the head with a Harry Potter book. Yes, I said Harry Potter. It has to be a BIG book because up until now I have been teaching it and preaching it, but I haven’t been “getting it.”

I attended two back-to-back writer conferences, the SCBWI conference in Nashville and the ACFW in St. Louis. I almost bowed out of both of them. I wasn’t prepared. The Nashville conference offered a contest to the first 25 entries in each genre.

I didn’t want to enter my old manuscript, so like a phoenix, I aimed to rise up from the ashes of my failures to try something new. So I wrote all night from the top of my head about a girl and a guitar. I wrote from my heart. I wrote with abandon and came up with a killer title I blatantly stole from a Matt Urmy song.

But I didn’t make the contest. I was too late with my submission. All that writing for nothing.

At that point I REALLY didn’t want to go to the conference, but I had already paid the fee. I felt defeated—again. I was just tired. Well, I wasn’t just tired—I was tarred. That’s how we say it in the South. That’s how we say
it when we aren’t being good and proper English teachers.

To make matters worse. I had paid for a writing critique. But what was I going to send?  On a whim, I packaged my newly penned WIP with the killer title and sent it off. I expected the worse.

When I arrived to the conference, I dragged myself into the critique session and awaited my sentence. I was doomed.

Then the oddest thing happened. The literary agent said she liked it. Most of all, she liked my voice, and she said my main character was very likeable and very funny. (She underlined very on my critique notes.) She also said my work was very marketable for the teen audience.

Woo hoo! Too bad I hadn’t finished it. Next time I will send a completed manuscript.

But I finally figured “it” out, “it” being the lesson I have trying to teach my students. Voice is everything. Voice
comes from the heart.

My voice is quirky because I’m quirky. My colleagues wear business suits. I’m more comfortable in jeans, yellow Converse sneakers with daisies, and vintage rock t-shirts.

For crying out loud, I have feathers in my hair! What’s wrong with me?

Okay, I can explain the feathers. I blame it all on pirates and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, a rather nice combination, I think. My older son dared me; my younger son BEGGED me, on his knees with a tiny little tear in his left eye, “Don’t do it, Mom.”

But I did it. I have four little feathers in my hair. How was I to know that every middle school girl in the county would get her hair did that way too? Oh, well.

But I’ve learned that jeans, yellow daisy shoes, and rock tees are who I am. Feathers too. And FYI, my feathers have been a great conversation starter. I’ve had several women my age and older ask me why, and I say, “Because these feathers remind me I’m not afraid to be me.” They smile and nod and say, “I think I might just get some feathers too.”

So FINALLY I am on the path to figuring it out. I can’t write with any other voice. I have to write with my own—as quirky and unconventional as it is. And I must, must, must write with humor. So I over exaggerate. So I sneak in quirky characters and ridiculous situations. Isn’t life quirky and unpredictable?

And tragic?

When I went to St. Louis, I met three women who set my writing wheels back in motion. I attended Morgan
Doremus’ workshop on author branding. She explained that an author’s voice IS a major element of her branding.

I attended Janice Thompson’s workshop “A Merry Heart,” and she said that a funny book, a reason to laugh, is
like an ointment that soothes the hurt in our hearts and souls.

I pray my words can be an ointment.

And I met literary agent Natasha Kern.

Ms. Kern asked me why I had signed up to meet with her. She didn’t represent YA authors. I didn’t realize I had signed up to meet with her. Her name appeared my conference agenda, and there we were—together. A mismatch.

It’s not that she would never represent YA authors. She might be interested if I were the next Jenny B. Jones. But  I’ll never be the next Jenny B. Jones. But I am, however, the now and forever Teresa Lockhart.

Then Ms. Kern pointed to her heart and said, “You have to write from here. Don’t write to please the
markets. Don’t let anyone change the way you write.”

Then she went on to tell me she was pretty unconventional herself. After all, it was she who sold her client’s
book about Amish vampires.

Okay. I like that. She’s a woman who’s true to her word.

So here I am, “tarred” and feathered, but I’ve got my compass in hand, and I’m ready to set sail on this writing adventure again.

Ahoy, mateys.


Deadline for commenting for contest: Midnight Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
Congratulations Mandy Hunt and Amanda Taylor, whose names were drawn from the “cyber hat.”
Please email me privately so that I can get your mailing addresses to send you your cards.

57 thoughts on “Tarred and feathered

  1. Teresa you have always inspired so many and I know Emily West for a fact is one. Kepp your head up and you will Soar like eagles. I love the Feather Story Just Free to be Me is a line from one of my favorite songs. As for Amish Vampires Oh My Goodness Not the Amish to. Thanks for your love of God you share!

  2. And I tweeted this! Great piece, Tee. Amish vampires? Oy! Let’s write a story about Hasidic werewolves!

    Thumbs up for the post. I’ve had a bad day and this is a welcomed salve.

  3. Mandy “Owens” Hunt referred me to read this. Honestly my first thought was WOW that’s alot of reading and wasn’t going to read it all, but once I got started I was hooked. And alot of this that you wrote about I do recall you teaching me when I was in your class last year. You made me enjoy writing and taught me not to be so scared when I heard the word essay. And in reading this blog it seems like you have found more ways to teach your students the same thing you taught me. I know it helped me even more than before.

  4. Amanda, you have totally made my day, almost made me cry. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for taking the time to reassure me. Your words blessed me.

  5. I wish I was allowed to write with a voice! This year in college, I am so focused on passing that creativity has gone by the wayside. It’s a bit depressing, actually. This is one of the reasons that I have started by my blog. I have so many ideas in my head just bouncing off the walls of my brain, but they’re not doing any good! Hopefully, someone will get the same help and satisfaction from my blog as I have from yours. I love you, Tee. Keep writing and keep your head up!!

    By the way, I referred some friends. Let me know if they comment ❤

  6. Write for your audience, but you if you are a writer, you must find a way to write with your natural voice. It’s kind of like painting a car or a house. You have to do what you have to do for others….but if ‘s your own canvas, you’ll find your freedom and enjoy it.

  7. Tee, I’ve missed your blog in all of the time I’ve been away. You hit me right in the heart today. I needed that. God’s whomped me upside the head three times today, and your blog was one of those times. I love you, girl, in all of your honesty and uniqueness. 🙂

  8. Thank you for writing about your voice…i’m hoping that it will inspire me to find mine. It’s been a long time since i even thought about my “voice”, not even sure where to look right now…

    • Hi Gwen. Thanks so much for taking the time to read. I think we’re all so busy that we can’t even hear our on thoughts sometimes. Maybe a long walk in the park or the woods would be a good place to start. I’m going to take my own advice. I could use a long walk. 🙂

  9. Jennifer Sexton sent me here and I’m so glad she did. Enjoyed what I read and I’m looking forward to future posts. I too have feathers ;). My daughter is only 4, so she thinks it’s super cool!

    • Amy! My new feathered friend! Thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate it. I bet your daughter is adorable, and she is very fortunate to have a cool mommy like you!

  10. Teresa, I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination and to sit down and read something is difficult for me to do. I enjoyed reading this. We can all take from this to find our voice within ourselves, to be true and honest with ourselves. Thank you so much for sending this “contest” to me. I’m so glad you did!

    • Rhonda, I know that if I ever needed someone you would be there in heartbeat. I hope you feel the same way about me. You truly care about people–and Lindsea follows in your footsteps. Thank you so much for taking the time to read. It means a lot to me.

  11. Mrs. Lockhart I enjoyed reading your blog for the first time. (not saying it’s the first time i’ve enjoyed it but rather I enjoyed reading it for the very first time)

    • Wow! I think think I felt that. But, nevertheless, I’ll take a high five in the Asylum. Just don’t forget. Thank you for reading. I always enjoy reading your work. Always.

  12. Loved this blog! As far as “voice” goes, you are solo material in my book. Hey, a writing reference and not even planned! 🙂 Been trying my hand at writing for, uh…. EVER, but too worried about the audience or critiques. Your blog encourages me to maybe reach a little farther and take a chance. You, never doubt yourself! Your voice is velvet. ♥

    • Don’t you dare worry about critiques. You are the bravest, most inspiring woman I know. And with Martha on your side, you’ve got nothing to fear. Thank you for being so gracious and for reading and for making me feel good. You have a way with words yourself, you know.

  13. You’ve preached to me going on five years now to find my voice. I still search for it sometimes. Almost daily. My writing is as awkward as me, but perhaps that’s how God intended it to be all along. The first day of my literature class, my professor already hopped on the voice issue. I still search for it whether I am writing for class, Sidelines, or my blog. I think I find my voice the longer I keep writing, or at least the more I learn about myself, the more I learn about my voice. http://misstepsofawest.wordpress.com/

  14. You’ve got your voice. You’ll have to tuck it away in your straight news stories, but it will sneak it “the right way” when you’re ready. You’ve already got it in your blog, which I loved by the way. I hope others will click and read too.

  15. We’ve been in Tuscaloosa (ROLL TIDE!) until late last night and I couldn’t get to your blog on my phone — something lame about weak signals and such — another argument to get a laptop or iPad! Anyway, I love reading your blog … it just flows and makes me smile, laugh, and sometimes tear up. Glad you’ve found your voice again…don’t let anyone tell you your voice is wrong (I had a prof. in college tell me my opinion was wrong once, humph!). Remember, John Grisham was rejected 20+ times with “A Time to Kill” and “The Help” was rejected 67 times. Never, never give up and be true to YOUR voice! 🙂

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you. You really give me that little extra boost. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting out of Manchester for a little while. I’ve spent fall break at home, mostly in my sunroom, but it has been a nice break. Sometimes just thinking your own thoughts can be a nice break. 🙂

  16. I was very happy to see your writing back up and running as it always is a highlight for me when I read your words. My brother will be commenting to soon as to put us both in your contest.

  17. Thank you so much for always encouraging me. Sometimes all it takes is just the right words to change a person’s day. You have a way of doing that!

  18. Tee, I started a book years ago and quit after my dad passed. I am so inspired by you and your writings. I too, like the girl who commented earlier, have not read a book much in years. Your stories though, I could not stop reading. They are serious and funny at the same time. I guess the more appropriate words would be “not boring”. You are a great writer old friend and I cannot wait to buy one of your books. Thanks, Tee and you don’t need me to say good luck, you were born with a great talent and it is nice to see that someone actually knows what to do with their talent! Love and miss you! Linda

    • Your words are such an encouragement. Thank you. I pray that maybe one day I’ll see a book with my name on it, but I know I can’t make that the focus of my life. I’ll just have to leave that up to God. I miss you too. We should make time to get together. You are a great friend!

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