Oct 26

Writing Advice

By Allison Stein

Sometimes I am discouraged with my writing – with these unlikely aspirations I cling onto so tightly. Other times, I get frustrated; when I am uninspired and words feel motionless, I ask myself why on earth I am giving advice about writing. But then I recall my life before I shared my writing with others – before I gained the privilege of reaching readers by putting my impalpable thoughts into words. Only with that perspective can I see how much I’ve learned from my writing endeavors.

From my experiences, I have learned how essential determination is; I’ve realized how necessary it is to improve myself. The constant search of ways to get better is a definite part of the writing process. Whether reading a writing magazine or talking with someone who has made his or her dreams come true, I strive to learn as much as I can; being open to new information and ideas allows me to make writing all it can be. Even if you are apprehensive about beginning or advancing your writing journey, make that brave first move toward success. Additionally, find an activity that strengthens your writing; for me, this hobby is writing in a journal, which has enabled me to not only express myself and organize my thoughts but also look back at previous entries and discover how much my writing has improved. Writing has taught me the importance of pushing myself to do my best beyond my writing aspirations and to have a positive impact on people.

Other people have an inexpressible effect on my writing, after all. I constantly look forward to going to monthly poetry readings, for example; this writing group has exposed me to new techniques and approaches, taught me different methods of delivery, and – most importantly – introduced me to countless talented people who have played a major role in my life. Inspiration and encouragement from others is invaluable. I was extremely lucky to meet a mentor who guided me through writing a chapbook and supports me to this day. The generosity of others reminds me what an enormous impact all of us can have on the world. If we are determined to make ourselves better, we can accomplish the goals we strive for.

My endeavors have taught me how crucial a positive mindset is as well. Whenever I feel discouraged, I recall the day an online magazine called Amazing Kids!, which I am now a contributing author to, sent me my first acceptance letter; that moment has led me to where I am now. The biggest insight I gain from that memory is that I didn’t put limits on myself; I learn to dream wildly and fearlessly, to believe that I have the potential to realize my dreams. Setting goals has made my dreams feel more reachable, and writing them down has helped me record the progress I’ve made. Since the time I made my first submission, I have been becoming more and more passionate about what I do and what I dream of doing in the future. In fact, I consider passion the fuel that ignites a journey.

Of course, just because we have already ignited that initial flame – just because we have taken a deep breath and delved into our dreams – we won’t always accomplish our goals without conquering adversity. But the tribulations along our pathways are ultimately what strengthen us. The times I’ve struggled most are the ones I’ve made the most profound discoveries from. Before I self-published my chapbook, for instance, I was hesitant to take such a risk, to leave myself and my work vulnerable to the opinions of others; thankfully, I learned to stop being paranoid about negative possibilities and center my focus instead on how fulfilling writing is.

Even after I took that chance, I faced moments when I was reluctant to keep trying or scared to move forward; since stumbling through the intimidating obstacles of becoming comfortable enough to read my writing out loud and finding the courage to speak openly about my experiences, struggles and all, I tell myself not to be afraid of opportunities. Finally, I remind myself that I can’t give up because I have been gifted with the chance to share myself through words. I remember why I need to keep going. I strive to keep a mindset that echoes this message, that encourages me as I travel wherever my journey takes me. And I strive to somehow, some way encourage others – to give them the faith they need to reach the destinations of their dreams.

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Sep 29

A Voice Through Words

By Allison Stein

What do you think of when you hear the word “change”? A caterpillar breaking out of its cocoon and transforming into a butterfly? Leaves turning auburn and gold in autumn? The shift from lively daylight to star-covered nightfall? Actually, I think of writing.

A manuscript that I wrote a year ago would be completely different from what I would write today. My voice, syntax, and rhythm change automatically as time passes and new experiences shape me. I constantly gain inspiration by observing nature more closely; this insight enables me to describe the world more accurately. Even a characteristic as subtle as the emotion implied from word choice can alter based on how I feel. My perspective becomes wider and deeper as I learn more. Also, I constantly strive to improve my techniques. When I am exposed to new forms of poetry and new ways to convey ideas, I am able to develop a more distinct taste. I think of writing as trial and error; the first draft rarely has much resemblance to the final, and I must try out several possibilities to figure out which words work best.

But an altering writing style is not the only reason I consider “change” and “writing” pieces of the same idea; writing itself has changed me as a person. For one, writing has taught me to take chances. Self-publishing a chapbook was a risk; I had no idea how people would respond and was unprepared for the adventures marketing would bring. I knew that the writing process would prove challenging and that I did not have much experience; I felt the odds were against me. I cannot express how glad I am that I pursued my goal despite my apprehension; writing a book is one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life. Taking chances is difficult, but I believe it is much easier than wishing in retrospect that I had. In addition, I learned how important it is to take my dreams seriously; they do come true. Before I became so passionate about writing, I was more likely to give up. Just as much as I have learned about the meter of poetry and the organization of a manuscript, I have learned about persistence and tenacity. Finally, writing has allowed me to express myself better. Words give me a voice. I think of writing as a universal communication capable of connecting each person. This medium is a wonderful way to share a message, and I relish in the ability to put my ideas into words.

I like to look at each day as an opportunity for improvement, and that means I must expect change. As bright green leaves slowly turn crimson, my writing style and outlook shift. I am thrilled when I realize that this has happened; change means I am learning and getting better – that I have become open to all writing offers me – that I have finally found a voice through words.

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Aug 24

Poem: The Lone Flower

By Allison Stein

Inspiration comes from several avenues, but the biggest source of my ideas has always been the outdoors. Nature is essential to my writing process; therefore, my grandparents’ yard is an ideal place to ponder over words. The hilltop garden that overlooks the pond is especially stunning; when I observe beauty as deep as what I see in those flowers, words flow.

I recall one evening two summers ago. My family had walked to my grandparents’ house, and as usual, I was in awe of the garden. One particular flower enraptured me so much that I got out a notebook I had brought with me, sat at the top of the hill, and recorded the sight of a hibiscus. By the end of the day, I had titled my poem The Lone Flower; I would like to share the beauty I discovered with you.

The Lone Flower

The lone flower
Tinted light pink
Quavered in the breeze,
Made me forget to think.

Even from a distance
I envied the flower's grace:
The center looked like satin;
The edges portrayed lace.

The stem held lush leaves
Like a pretty vine;
The leaves began to twist
As I watched them entwine.

The flower tilted slightly,
Turning with the wind.
The hibiscus changed direction;
I swear the flower grinned.
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Jul 25

My Presentation

By Allison Stein

On Wednesday morning, I already knew that the evening would be one I’d remember forever. It was July 9. At 6:30, I would speak about self-publishing Summer Sensations at the Rawson Memorial Library in Cass City – and give only the second presentation I have given in my life. I knew I had a big opportunity.

I thought back to all the times I’d practiced my presentation. My mom had listened to me and given me feedback; sometimes she’d advised me to talk slower so that the audience could understand me better, and other times she’d told me that I needed to speak louder. Mom had shown me how to “talk to people, not at them.” She had always given me encouragement, and I could tell she believed in me. At each practice session, I had tried to improve.

But on Wednesday, those practices seemed years ago, and there was no more time for preparation.

I was very nervous. So much relied on that night. My presentation had the possibility of going horribly; I kept imagining myself messing up, like a recurring nightmare in my mind. On the other hand, I had a chance to share a special night with my readers. The evening could be a disaster or a fantastic memory; the potential for either felt unsettling. Furthermore, even after my practicing, I wasn’t sure I was ready; I was used to performing in front of an audience of one and wasn’t confident in how I would handle the pressure of talking to a crowd.

That evening, I rode in a van with my parents, sister, and grandparents; I looked out the window and worried. When my sister spotted a “Cass City” sign, my anxiety rose. My family reached the library moments later and was directed to the room where I would speak. I arranged my display book and organized my printed-off poems. Several people came before the presentation began, and I was excited about the turnout.

Six thirty came too soon. It was time for my presentation to start, and my heart was beating fast. Everyone had sat down, the librarian had introduced me, and the room was completely silent. Everything was ready – except me. I looked out at the audience and hesitated. I wasn’t just nervous anymore; I was scared. Then I remembered my first presentation, which I had given almost a year ago; right before I had begun speaking, a friend had come up to me and reminded me of all the people who supported me: my family, my friends, my mentors, and the members of my community. Those words echoed inside me, and somehow, I wasn’t as afraid. I got the courage, once again, to start.

I shared with the audience members how Summer Sensations came to be. I told them about everything from the first publications that accepted my work to my adventures in marketing. I read them my poetry and answered their questions. Afterwards, I enjoyed meeting my readers.

I believe that speaking at the Rawson Memorial Library was a good experience. I learned how to react when situations don’t go exactly as planned, to control my nerves, and to take risks. Best of all, I had an abundance of support from the community, for which I am immensely thankful.

Just like I predicted on Wednesday morning, the evening of July 9 is a permanent memory. I can’t forget the excitement of sharing what I’ve learned with the audience – and, at the same time, learning more myself. The biggest discovery I made was the importance of pushing myself farther and farther. I used to be apprehensive about setting goals above myself, but now I’ve realized that doing so just makes me reach higher.

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Jul 02

My Summer Project

By Allison Stein

I am very excited to start my summer project of blogging; each post will be a wonderful opportunity to share my ideas, goals, projects, and dreams with my readers. This blog will center on my passion – writing – but it could veer into other parts of my life because, for me, words influence everything. I cannot wait to record my experiences for you!

I would like to start by introducing myself as Allison Stein. My passion for writing goes back a long way – to elementary school, in fact. My mom was a writer, and I wanted to be one as well; I wrote stories and journal entries and developed a strong love for writing. After fourth grade, I wished to write not just a story but a published story. I needed readers, people who would immerse themselves in my words. I was talking to my mom one day and mentioned the possibility of me making submissions to a newspaper she wrote for called The Lakeshore Guardian (www.lakeshoreguardian.com). As an alternative, Mom helped me search the Internet for a publication kids wrote for, and we discovered an online magazine called Amazing Kids! (www.amazing-kids.org). I submitted my stories, both fiction and nonfiction, and it felt tremendous to see my name printed at the top of the page – and even better to imagine the individuals potentially inspired by my writing. About a year later, I was asked to be a staff member of Amazing Kids!; I am a contributing author and submit to the online magazine monthly.

I wrote my first poem in fifth grade and loved the way poetry allows the expression of feelings. My next big endeavor came shortly afterwards. A friend gave me a flier for the America Library of Poetry contest. Every year, the America Library of Poetry publishes an anthology of accepted poems and showcases winners. I have never won a contest for the America Library of Poetry, but my writing has been published in three of the poetry collections!

A major aspiration of mine was to write a book; that goal nagged at me relentlessly until I finally pursued it. I knew I had reached a breakthrough when my mom told me about a discussion she’d had with a local poet who introduced Mom and me to the idea of a chapbook. I had never heard of a chapbook at the time, but I learned that it is a short book, typically with a theme. After that, the dream of writing a book slowly became a reality.

Summer Sensations

Summer Sensations

I wrote summer poems, typed them up, and made a list of “Steps to Become an Author” with my mom. Next, I received a critique, and my mom (Janis Stein) edited my poems; Julie Purdy, editor of The Lakeshore Guardian, designed the chapbook, and Mom and I selected a cover photo. I decided on Summer Sensations as the title and chose a company called DiggyPOD to print the book. Then came marketing: submitting press releases; going to book signings, farmers’ markets, and Christmas bazaars; and asking local stores to carry Summer Sensations. Last summer, I gave my first presentation at the Port Austin History Center, and my parents, sister, and grandparents all came to support me. Although I was anxious about the event, I loved telling readers how Summer Sensations changed from an idea to a book, and I hope to do more speaking this summer. Despite some challenges in writing, publishing, and marketing my chapbook – including being paranoid about revisions, the fear of what people think of my poetry, and feeling nervous before reading poems – I believe the process is extremely rewarding.

Writing a chapbook was a wonderful experience. I have learned several things, especially persistence; I definitely struggled at times, but when I was in the middle of a difficulty, I remembered why I wanted to publish a book – to share my writing – and that was and always will be enough incentive to keep trying.

Sharing one’s heart is incredibly special, and that is the strongest reason I love writing – and why I am so thrilled with the prospect of blogging! I am about to publish my first blog post and have the chance to offer inspiration and motivation. Within minutes, I will begin my newest adventure. I hope you will join me!

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Jun 25

A Writer’s Life

It’s been a little more than a month since my most recent book, Schools of Yesteryear, Volume II, has been published, and what a whirlwind it’s been! Schools of Yesteryear is a coffee table book, complete with the history of 14 one- and two-room schoolhouses that once served the students of Bingham, Paris, & Sheridan Townships in Huron County. I’ve spent the past month marketing my latest creation at book signings hosted by local libraries as well as area farmers’ markets, and I’ve so enjoyed meeting the people – both students and teachers – who once spent their days at these schools!

Marketing is a necessary and important part of the self-publishing process, but for me, it’s also a little unnerving. It’s that self-doubt that most writers seem to possess that rises to the surface, doubt that’s unstoppable and more than a little aggravating. Despite the hours of exhaustive and intense research, despite the grammar and resource books consulted, despite the memorabilia and old photographs resurrected from dusty attics, despite carefully crafted sentences, despite knowing this isn’t the first book I’ve created, still anxiety worms its way into my psyche.

Is this book good enough? Did I miss anything important? Who would even want it? These questions and many more give me pause and make me question why I even do what I do.

On Memorial Day weekend, I was reminded of exactly why it is I do what I do, why preserving history is important to me, and why I will continue in this writer’s life, digging deep to resurrect the history and the memories associated with Huron County’s one-room schoolhouses. My book designer, Julie Purdy, and I made our way to the Port Austin Farmers’ Market well before the crack of dawn to get in line with a multitude of other vendors ready and anxious for a profitable day with the perfect venue to sell our wares. It was a picture-perfect day; the sun was shining, and there was no wind threatening to topple my book displays. I was also joined by my daughters, and time spent with them is always priceless, so it didn’t matter what the day might bring in terms of sales.

By mid-morning, I had sold more books than I had anticipated and had already deemed the day a success. Shortly after, a woman and her daughter approached, and the woman began to flip through the pages of my new schoolhouse book, all the while making small talk and inquiring whether her mother might be in the book since she had attended one of the schoolhouses featured. I assisted her in finding the index, and while we noted that her mother wasn’t in the picture on the page referencing the surname we sought, there was a school photo featured that included many of her aunts and uncles. As the pair exclaimed over this relative and that one, she wondered aloud if her mother had been sick on that particular picture day; it seemed the only plausible reason.

As she rifled through her purse in search of her checkbook, she made an offhand comment, wondering about her father’s school. She couldn’t remember the name of it, but she gave me the approximate location of where the school would have been. From my schoolhouse map included in the book, we were able to determine the name of the school he must have attended: Paris Township’s McMillan School. In retrospect, it would have been quicker to consult the index, and it was then that I did just that, asking her first to share with me her father’s name. To her surprise, not only was his name in the index, there her father was, pictured on page 131.

Since I was internally congratulating myself on clinching the sale, I didn’t initially realize that the woman had grown quiet. It was then that a saw a trail of tears snaking their way down her cheek and escaping the cover of her sunglasses. She was in a mild panic then, saying she didn’t know which one her dad was in the picture. Both her daughter and I again pointed to his name in the caption of the photo. She took her glasses off, and I could see she was in a state of distress. This woman then explained that her tears were hampering her vision. Together, her daughter and I counted the fifth child over in the second row. There he was; there was her dad. As she touched his face, the tears came faster, and in between, she explained he’d just passed away and pictures of him as a child were all but non-existent.

No longer did I care so much about marketing or making a sale. No longer did I antagonize over whether or not my sentences were carefully crafted. No longer did I wonder whether this book was good enough. I knew my writing and my work had touched someone’s life. And that is why I do so enjoy this writer’s life.

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Apr 17

Announcing…Schools of Yesteryear, Volume II…

I am very excited to announce the upcoming arrival of my new book, Schools of Yesteryear, Volume II, which features the 14 one- and two-room schools of Bingham, Paris, & Sheridan Townships, Huron County, Michigan! This book has been six years in the making, and it truly has been a labor of love! Schools of Yesteryear is a 320-page hardcover, coffee table book with over 400 images. Over 150 former students, teachers, and school board members offered memories, oral history, memorabilia, and photographs to make these country schools once again come alive!

Books are (supposed to be!) printing right now, and the printer, Sheridan Books, Inc., will be shipping as soon as my order is completed! I published my first schoolhouse book in 2008, and I’ve learned so much since then. I’m especially pleased to share that my new schoolhouse book contains an index that will be a treasure-trove to genealogy lovers, and I’m also very proud of the fact that my book is made in Michigan! My website has been updated with all of my upcoming book signings, and you can also order online. I hope you enjoy it!

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