Interview with Jeanie Ransom, 2021 Q3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up with "How to Write a Perfect Sentence"

Saturday, August 28, 2021
Congratulations to Jeanie Ransom and How to Write a Perfect Sentence and all the winners of our 2021 Quarter 3 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Jeanie's Bio:  
Jeanie Ransom sold her first story to Seventeen magazine when she was seventeen. She’s written for numerous national and regional magazines and newspapers since, was an associate editor at a bed-and-breakfast magazine, worked as an advertising copywriter, and is the author of nine traditionally-published children’s books. In addition, Jeanie has been an elementary school counselor, a licensed professional counselor, and a Starbucks barista and Coffee Master. She’s participated in workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival as well as taken several WOW! Women on Writing classes. Previous WOW! Contest entries have been in the Top Twenty or a finalist. Her flash-fiction story, “The Space Between,” was just accepted for publication by Flash Fiction Magazine. When she’s not traveling between her home in a western suburb of St. Louis, MO, and a cottage near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula in northern Michigan, Jeanie likes to read, look for rocks, be on the water or walk in the woods with her husband and their two collies, Sadie and Sawyer.

 If you haven't done so already, check out Jeanie's talent in writing with the moving story How to Write a Perfect Sentence and then return here for a chat with this talented author.

WOW:    Thank you for writing this essay - what is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from How to Write a Perfect Sentence? 

Jeanie: Thank you for reading it! The essay grew out of frustration with my writing process. I find myself writing and rewriting the first few sentences so much – in essence, editing as I write rather than doing a rough draft – that I have trouble pushing through to finish a piece. I was tired of being paralyzed by perfectionism, of beating myself up because I wasn't as productive or prolific as I thought I should be. So, for this essay, I decided to just write what I was feeling, and oddly enough, the memory of my grandfather making me walk "the right way" when he took me to the zoo surfaced. It was an "aha" moment when I realized how early messages had affected the way I thought about myself. I feel like a lot of writers have a harsh inner critic that makes them doubt the quality and/or value of their work, and I hope that by sharing my story, they'll know they're not alone, and may want to explore where their inner critic came from. 

WOW:     That darn inner critic - you're right...I'd never talk to anyone else the way I talk to myself!

Where do you write? What does your space look like? 

Jeanie:  I divide my time between Missouri and Michigan, so my writing tools – computer, pens, journals, projects – are usually stashed in a backpack so I can write wherever I am. My favorite – and most productive – place to write is at a coffee shop or cafe. My writer friends and I call it "cafe writing," which is code for "no talking, just writing" for a set amount of time before taking a break. As far as what my writing space looks like, in Missouri I have a desk in my eldest son's old room, along with a couple of shelves filled with books on writing and books written by members of my critique group. On top of the desk is my mother's old typewriter, the kind that makes the satisfying "clackety-clack" when you type, a writing totem (mine is a small carved wooden owl my oldest son gave me), and a bowl of miniature dog biscuits for my two office "assistants," Sadie and Sawyer, both rough collies. At my cottage in Michigan, I tend to write in a spare bedroom with a big comfy leather chair in one corner, or go out on the deck. Sometimes my writing space is in the woods, on a fallen birch tree about fifty feet long. I guess I write here, there, and everywhere! 

WOW:     I love a cozy coffee shop - thanks for sharing some of your story - I love that you have your mother's old typewriter. That's so sweet! Speaking of family; who is your support - what have you found to be most supportive in your writing life as well as in life in general? 

Jeanie: My husband and three grown sons are my biggest cheerleaders, followed closely by my critique group, The Polished Pens. 

WOW:    Sounds like you have a great support system!

 What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for the remainder of 2021 and beyond? 

Jeanie: My plan is to continue writing essays, flash fiction, and micro memoirs. Ideally, I'd like to generate enough material for a book. I've also been doing some nature writing, though I'm not sure where that's going yet. My writing goals for the rest of 2021 include submitting more work to online and print literary journals and magazines. I just had a flash fiction story, "The Space Between," published by Flash Fiction Magazine, so I'm excited to see what I can do this year and beyond. 

 WOW:         YES! Congratulations!

You've worn many hats according to your bio - which job (so far) has been your favorite? 

Jeanie:  Hmmm, that's a great question! I believe that every job a person has – good or bad – teaches them something. Even if it's only to learn that you never, ever want to work in that field or industry again! For example, writing ad copy for radio stations and then at advertising agencies taught me how to write short and to meet tight deadlines, both of which came in handy when I started writing children's books years later. Working as an elementary school counselor gave me experience writing lessons and presenting them to students from kindergarten through third grade, which just so happened to be the target audience for the children's books I'd write and the school visits I'd eventually do. My favorite job was working as a radio station copywriter. I'd just graduated from college, and radio was a fun and exciting business to be in, especially for young people. I met my future husband, a DJ, at a radio station in Little Rock, Arkansas, so there's that, too! 

WOW:       Isn't that a tough one? You did great with your answer though!

 What role has journaling and/or writer's groups played in your writing life? 

Jeanie:   I kept a diary when I was growing up, and amazingly, I still have all of them! So I guess journaling came pretty naturally to me when I became an adult. I don't remember exactly when I started journaling on a pretty regular basis, but I know that over the past few years, journaling became an essential part of my self-care. I've tried "Morning Pages" and writing a certain amount every day, but I decided I didn't want to feel bad if I skipped a day or my word count fell short. That's not helpful! Now I journal on a regular basis, just not every day, and not a prescribed number of pages. Sometimes I'll fill two pages, or as many as seven. I just start writing whatever comes to mind, even if it's "I don't know what to write about," and continue until I feel like I'm done. I know that for me, especially during the pandemic, journaling was often the only writing I could manage for months at a time. It kept me grounded and ended up providing material for future essays. I've belonged to a writers' group for at least twenty-five years. Different members have come and gone, moved away or moved back, but the group has continued. There is nothing more important for a writer, in my opinion, than a good critique partner or group, whether it's online or in person. 

WOW:         Why do you enter contests? What would you like to tell other authors concerning contests and submitting their work? 

Jeanie:  At the start of the pandemic, I found myself unable to read a book or to write more than a few sentence fragments. To motivate myself to write and submit something, anything, I started entering contests. I'd taken a flash-fiction workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in 2019, and really enjoyed it. It was something totally different from writing children's books, which I'd been doing since 2000, and I think that's why I was able to switch gears. Once I started playing with flash fiction, I tried flash non-fiction and micro memoirs. Everything's under 1,000 words, so even as stuck as I was, I could manage to squeeze enough words out to write a whole story. I also returned to writing essays, something I hadn't done in decades, and submitting several to contests. I was familiar with WOW – Women on Writing – from taking an online class a few years ago, but I hadn't really paid much attention to the fact that they had contests until the pandemic. I decided to enter one, and was pleased to be a finalist, so I entered another one, and so on. I found WOW's contests to be affordable, easy to enter, and extremely well-run. While I still enter some contests, I'm really careful to do my research and choose wisely, which is what I'd advise anyone to do. I've started submitting more to online and print literary journals and magazines that don't charge a reading fee, and have found that taking online classes has helped me generate new material to submit, whether to a contest or for publication.

WOW: Thank you ever so much for sharing your essay, sage advice, and your laughter today - we look forward to reading more of your work! Congratulations again! 

  Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

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Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Love, love, love this essay! It is so good to see your work.

Stephanie Bearce said...

Thanks for all you insight!

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