Tag Archives: writing

My “Sympathetic Mentor”, Mr. Medlyn…

This typewriter is identical to the one we had at home...photo from 8pmdaily.com

I know that there is no other satisfaction which lights up one’s heart with as fierce a glow as that happiness of knowing one has written well. 

Arthur F. Medlyn


A couple of weeks ago while I was going through boxes searching for material to send to my friends Chase and Leanne for their new website, Stuff Kids Write, I stumbled on a forgotten file…it was my correspondence with the only bona fide writing teacher I ever had, Arthur F. Medlyn.

It was February, 1974, and I was 12-and-a-half.  I was reading an issue of Yankee magazine in which I found a small ad for a company called The Writing Well in Pittsfield, Massachusetts…the ad offered writing instruction, so I sent a letter inquiring about the service they provided.

The first response came within a week…I loved Mr. Medlyn from the time I read his first paragraph:

The straightforward character of your writing, its neat arrangement, especially the clean typewriting, and its modesty are becoming.  I’m sure you can write well!

Mr. Medlyn went on to explain that he had been a literary editor who had been writing for almost fifty years, and had first had poetry published while in his teens at Northfield Mt. Hermon School, a private high school founded by evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

My debt to him and to the school is great, and I’d like to repay it in part by providing for you, a young and talented person, the kind of training in writing well which would have done me good when I was young.  Together, we may apply the old school’s motto: “Learn as though your life on earth would endless be, Yet live as though tomorrow ushered in eternity!”

Mr. Medlyn’s standard fee for coaching was $50/month or $500/year in advance.  Knowing my tender age, he offered to give me a break:

Because you are young and full of heart, I’d like so much to help you that I’m willing to do it at less than cost (at least, at no cost for my time and effort); won’t you try my coaching service for $10.00 a month?

Mr. Medlyn asked me to send him a long detailed letter about myself and why I wanted to be a writer, two of my short pieces and $5.00 (the other $5.00 would be sent once we started working together).  He would discuss my background as related to a writing career, and offer his “One Man’s Opinion” (OMO) on the pieces I submitted.

Our main objective will be to create a body of meaningful literary work which the best publishers will be proud to publish.  They will do this because, through The Writing Well, your literary talent will have reached the kind of keen development which says, without another word, that you have written well.

Even at 12, I was my mother’s daughter…ever thrifty.  I sent Mr. Medlyn a letter expressing my interest in his offer, but asking if I was committed to studying with him for a certain amount of time.  I was worried about being locked into what I saw as a drain on my somewhat limited financial resources (my allowance was 15 cents a week, and my primary method of making extra money in the winter was babysitting for between 50 cents and $1 an hour).  His response was quick to dispel my fears:

My admiration for your sensible approach to the limited financial part of your writing efforts is boundless.  There is a danger here, however, in that you may very well find yourself so engrossed in the earning of money to support our pursuit together of your writing well that the pursuit may be lost in a flurry of dollars and cents.  If we are to write well, we must devote adequate, undisturbed time to the matter of writing…We mustn’t let financial considerations or other seemingly weighty obstructions stop us for a minute.

Mr. Medlyn’s new proposal suggested that I pay him $5.00 a month, and if I sold a piece during that month, that I would send him another $5.  Sold!

It was July (four days before my thirteenth birthday) before I got around to sending him the “long letter about myself” (I was a procrastinator even then).  I found my handwritten draft, which is the only letter of mine I have.  In it, I detailed my academic and family history (casually throwing in my distant relationship to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), and talked about my interest in being a writer:

I prefer writing as a possible career because I believe that I have always had a natural talent for it.  It appeals to me because I like expressing myself on paper, and because I have an imagination that often runs away with me.

In one of three postscripts, I told Mr. Medlyn about the summer jobs I had lined up (babysitting and picking berries), what they paid, and how much money I had already saved: $23.65.

In his next letter, Mr. Medlyn sent a poem he’d written just for me (I added the stars to separate the stanzas):


by Arthur F. Medlyn

The wind is telling me stories again

About the what and the why and the when

And the where and the many who‘s of men.


But now there’s no lad fetching the cows

Who wisely says nothing but only bows

As he passes by.  And the faint echoes


Left by the wind are a long-kept thought

Of the pasture’s lesson I once was taught

About the might-be and what could be wrought


By the study of what and when and where

To carry the why once you knew who was there.

But now there’s a girl with an earnest air


Who certainly must have heard that breeze

As it whisked by me on the pasture’s leas

And tickled my mind with a lasting tease


To know the who and the what and the why,

The when and the where, so that it would be I

Who could make them real for her noblest try


To tell to the world what that windy sprite

Tells all young writers: “With all your might

You must learn all you can, and then write, write, WRITE!”

Mr. Medlyn was determined to turn me into a poet…I’m afraid that I disappointed him…I sent him what were probably some awful poems, a short story, and a fairly decent haiku from a picture of a volcano:

A majestic hill

Superior to all things

Stands in high splendour.

He critiqued my work and assigned me some tercets, which I didn’t do…I told him I “lacked inspiration”, “was lazy”, and “was finding the rhyming part difficult”.  Mr. Medlyn brushed off my excuses:

A writer is supposed to be able to acquit himself with reasonable facility on any given occasion…even if he has a bad headache and his Walden hut has just fallen down over his ears.  All of us intelligent people are lazy, by definition.  We try to make our brains save our backs, and our heads save our heels.  Anything worth doing is not easy, else its value is nil. 

My last letter from Mr. Medlyn was dated January 11, 1975.  He advised that his business no longer existed, and that he was now “just plain Mr. Medlyn.”  I never did the poetry assignment or revised my short story, and that was the last time I had any contact with him.


I Googled Mr. Medlyn this morning, and learned that he had died on November 1, 1992 at the age of 78.  It’s a shame that he never seemed to have achieved any major notoriety from his writing.

I didn’t become a poet, but I am a writer…I think my “sympathetic mentor” had a lot to do with it…thank you, Mr. Medlyn!


Filed under memories

Stale and Wrinkled…

HAMMOND RIVER, NB (CP)  Unidentified sources report that writerwoman61, author of the once award-winning blog, Herding Cats in Hammond River, is not adjusting well to her slide into obscurity.  She spends her days staring aimlessly at the computer screen, tabbing between Facebook, Bejewelled Blitz, and her Hotmail account, hoping in vain for a comment (any comment) on her blog.  She eats honey-roasted peanuts straight from the jar, without using a napkin!  She hasn’t cooked anything more exciting than meatloaf all week, and her garden is sadly neglected.  Her dog isn’t even happy to see her when she comes downstairs in the morning!  Things weren’t always like this.

Only a week ago, writerwoman61 left the bookstore for a much-needed appointment with her hairdresser…her locks were getting long, stringy and gray, and her eyebrows were harbouring small rodents.  Nearly three hours later, she was beautiful presentable again, and arrived home to find that her blog had been featured on the WordPress home page…she had been Freshly Pressed for the second time in four months (despite that unfortunate misunderstanding with WordPress editor, Joy, when writerwoman61 wrongly accused her of spelling a word incorrectly)!  An embarrassing ecstatic happy dance ensued, one which sent all four teenagers shrieking in horror from the room.

By the end of the day, there had been 947 hits on writerwoman61’s blog (a 1200% increase over her usual traffic!).  The next day, there were 631 visits.  Writerwoman61 busied herself responding to the hundreds dozens of comments on her featured blog post, and marvelled at the response to an entry she considered fluffy at best…certainly not her finest work!  She hoped that the visitors took the time to check out some of her other posts while they were there!  She also found some new bloggers whose coattails she could ride blogs she added to her Blogroll.

When she looked at her Dashboard on the 3rd day FP (Freshly Pressed), writerwoman61 became despondent.  It was early July all over again…déjà vu!  She hadn’t put up a new post, and only 42 people had dropped by!  That night, she sat down at the keyboard and churned out a new post…who could resist a post about pets?  The next day, the blog was back at its “normal” traffic level of about 80 hits.  Writerwoman61’s spirits perked up a bit.

When Monday morning dawned, writerwoman61 had a bad case of writer’s block…her stats dropped again.  She spent the day getting groceries and doing laundry.  October 19th was her friend J.T.’s birthday…a post about a guy who’d lived through three bouts with cancer and a heart attack would definitely attract some readers…she was right!  There were 84 hits that day, and 83 the next.

As of 3:15 p.m. AST today, there have only been 40 hits on Herding Cats in Hammond River…writerwoman61 is about as popular as ants at a picnic…can a blog called Hoarding Cats in Hammond River be close behind?


Filed under blogging, satire

The Road Not Taken…Career Choices That Might Have Pre-empted This Blog…

I think I was eight years old when I made the decision to become a writer…however, I had some other career aspirations in case that writing thing didn’t work out:

1. Mother of Twenty Children.  When I was a kid, I was fascinated by large families…I think I saw the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen” (the original, not the lame remake!).  Being eight years old and not aware of the facts of life, I thought you could just decide to have twins or triplets, and get them!  If that didn’t work out, I would adopt them!  Of course, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that children didn’t just take care of themselves…I just wanted the fun of naming them!  Isn’t that the important part of parenting?  Looking back on the last 24 years, I’m really glad I only ended up with three kids and two stepkids!

My Big Family at Christmas Last Year...

2. An Elementary School Teacher.   I had a really good first grade teacher named Mrs. Lannan.  I wanted to be just like her!  I visualized myself at the front of the class talking to the children as they hung on my every word.  In reality, my teaching career would probably have lasted two days max, and ended with me being committed to a “quiet place” to calm down (picture a scene from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).

How I saw myself as a teacher...


3. A Doctor.    When I was nine, I decided to become a doctor.  I was smart, and they made good money!  What I didn’t consider is that I sucked at science (I couldn’t care less about how things worked), and wasn’t really excited about the gross things I would have to do as a physician.  I choke under pressure.  I also need a lot of sleep, so would never be able to work the shifts doctors do…

Me as a doctor...

4. A Singer in a Family Band.  We used to live next door to a family band called “The Singing Post Family.”   Their lives looked really glamourous to me.  I thought it would be a great idea for my brother and I, and our neighbours, Jimmy and Dougie, to form our own band.  What stopped us was that I was the only one who could sing or play an instrument, and that I was pretty much the only one who wanted to do it!  We also didn’t have the money to buy speakers and microphones and other stuff we would need.  Plus, it’s tough to find sequined outfits in Prince Edward County!

The Singing Post Family...early 1970's...

5. A Hockey Player.   Growing up with boys, I did what they did.  We played floor hockey in our enclosed front porch.  I thought it would be neat to be a hockey player!  Again, finances stopped me…new hockey pads would set my parents back more than $100…it just wasn’t in the budget.  The fact that my skating was wobbly and slow probably didn’t help either!

Me on my skates, 1970...

6. A Crochet Designer.  I learned to crochet when I was ten years old.  I loved it, and would often design my own patterns.  As a teenager, I dreamed about becoming a crochet designer.  We got the Toronto Star, and I devoured the Saturday Fashion section, thinking how cool it would be to sell a crocheted sweater for $900!  I designed a line of baby booties, and designed and crocheted my own wedding dress, but never went into the fashion business.  That’s probably a fortunate thing, as I don’t have the personality for it, and I’d be even poorer than I am now!

I could make this dress...

7.  A Genealogical Researcher.  My other passion as a teen was genealogy.  I am fortunate that many of my relatives have already assembled family trees for many of our family lines.  I busied myself with attempting to update my dad’s paternal line.  I sent letters to family members asking them to send me their personal details.  Since I was working from addresses that were about ten years old in some cases, many of my letters were returned.  I also soon came to the realization that even updating my own branch of the family could be a logistical nightmare, with all the marriages, divorces, remarriages, births, and deaths, that had occurred since the original family tree was compiled.  Maybe I’ll get back to it later…I still love research of any kind!  If somebody would pay me to sit in the National Archives all day, I’d so be there!

Our National Archives...

I guess it’s a good thing I became a writer/bookstore owner after all…I’m very much the “starving artist,” but wouldn’t trade what I do now for any other career!


Filed under blogging, family, memories, self-discovery

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame Lasted Only Fourteen-and-a-Half…

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.   Andy Warhol, 1968

Hey…it’s ME…writerwoman61!   Is this thing on?

Last Monday, I was just another one of the 273,000 bloggers whose “words of wisdom” appear on WordPress.com whenever I feel like sharing them…after three months of blogging, I had a small but steady following, garnering about 30 or 40 hits a day.  Some of the readers even commented (favourably) on my pieces…

Everything changed on Tuesday…I suddenly noticed comments coming in from people I wasn’t related to, or who weren’t Facebook friends!  And my stats on my Dashboard were climbing faster than I could keep track of them!

Stats chart from last week, leading up to Tuesday...

Something was up…I suspected that my blog might have been featured on the WordPress.com homepage…I navigated my way there…sure enough, there I was: “Freshly Pressed”!  Imagine my excitement! 

A few hours after discovering my newfound popularity, I got this message in my e-mail:

“Congrats! Your post ( https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/music-to-my-ears/ ) has been promoted to Freshly Pressed on WordPress.com. Keep up the good work!

Editorial Czar

WordPress.com | Automattic

(no offense, Joy, but you’re an EDITOR!  Shouldn’t you know how to spell “automatic”?).

I was still in shock, but realized that in the blogosphere, being “Freshly Pressed” is something like winning the lottery!  I was honoured to have been “chosen,” (I seriously wondered if my being picked was completely random – perhaps it was) but if I had it to do over again, I would have made sure they featured a more interesting post: truth be told, that one was the result of a “story prompt” that said to write about sounds that I liked.  Not one of my better efforts (I hope people read some other posts while they were here besides that one, but I suspect not!).  Had I known I was going to be showcased, I also probably wouldn’t have chosen a blurry scanned photo for my blog thumbnail!

I spent the rest of the day (and part of the next one) clicking back to my Dashboard every few minutes, marvelling at my ever-increasing number of hits (“They like me…they really like me!”), and answering comments.  I got almost as many comments for that one post as I had on the whole blog for the three months beforehand!  For the most part, people were very kind (although one fellow felt the need to point out that my dog really wasn’t happy to see me when I got home – he was just excited because his meal ticket was back!).  I checked out the commenters’ blogs, and found a few kindred spirits to add to my growing circle of female blogging buddies (I’ve added their links at the right – they’re all talented writers – please wait until you’ve finished reading mine though before clicking!).  I even got a couple of new subscribers out of it.

By Thursday, my popularity was waning, and my slide to oblivion began in earnest…my page on “Freshly Pressed” had been pushed into the background, replaced by new “celebrities.”

The sad aftermath of sudden fame...

At least I still have my looks…


Filed under blogging, memories