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Damn Fine Words Writing Course

DFW| Writing to Change Lives

Writing Changes Lives.

Each day we read stories of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. Today it’s a father telling the story of his ten year old son with autism who wore a wire to school and articles about Dr. Phil’s show on mercy killing.

This blog, Climbing Every Mountain (CEM) is one small voice for the rights, dignity and community inclusion of people with severe disabilities and their families. From an inclusive paradigm, I try to make sense of what is happening to our vulnerable children and friends. I hope to use my writing to tell the story, problem solve, teach, inspire and keep the dream of a good life alive. I hope to change lives.

Whether I like it or not, I feel my life work is to keep writing about my son Aaron, who has the label of autism, and other people on the fringe of society.

Our hope for a better future comes from feeling empowered to make a difference, not waiting for others–if there is only silence or chaotic noise nothing changes.

I’m convinced communication and writing are the tickets to change. So the writing better be damn good. Right?

Damn Fine Words

Damn Fine Words (link) is currently having a writing contest.

Damn Fine Words (link) is a course on how to improve writing skills for blogs and online businesses. So of course, you enter the contest by writing a post on your blog. (Don’t you love functional assignments?) It is taught by the talented James Chartrand of Men with Pens fame. I want to win a scholarship to this class, so this post is about “Why becoming a better writer could change my life” and “Why writing is important to me and my business.”

Adaptation and Accommodation are a Way of Life

CEM readers are important, the focus and integrity of staying on the topic of inclusion is important. I just can’t jump off on a contest tangent. Hey, all that guilt!

But special educators are crafty people *smile* who learn how to adapt, right? So, I’m going to give my contest information in the traditional I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) of Goals, Action Steps and Reevaluation to demonstrate how the I.E.P. Process is useful in not just Disability World, but in real life.

Evolution of my Thought Process about Writing

I.E.P. Vision, Goals, Action Steps, Evaluation

Vision: Write about living in an inclusive world where everyone belongs and individual differences are valued as strengths.

Book

Goal 1: I wanted to write a BOOK about Aaron’s story and talk about inclusion—not just to special education types or the learned choir—but to normal people. Makes sense, how are we going to be inclusive when we only talk to each other, right?

Action steps: Five years ago, I entered a contest with Writer’s Digest. (See a pattern here?) I won a subscription and began to relearn what I knew about adjectives, exclamation points and the basics of grammar. I learned about voice, point of view, plots, storytelling, story structure…. I joined WD’s Forum and learned about editing, publishing, authors and these new things called blogs and social media. I met writers who recommended blogs like Men with Pens. I joined a local writers’ group.

Evaluation: I wanted my writing to be powerful and inspire others. Yet, the more I learned, the more I needed to learn.

Evolution One: Book to Blog

Revised Goal 1: I wanted to share Aaron’s STORY and talk about inclusion with as many people as possible. (Same goal only forget the book format.)

Seth Godin (blogger extraordinaire) suggested writing a blog instead of writing a book: Traditional bookstores and publishing houses were closing; Blogs could immediately reach people around the world; Posts would be available indefinitely; Blogs could become online businesses; and, It’s possible to continually update the story.

Action Steps: I subscribed to about 20 blogs on writing and did an ecological assessment of how to be a good follower, tribe member, “true fan.” I discovered blogging was damn complicated. I put in a Gladstone’s thousand hours of study–I needed to learn about writing sure, but also about branding, design, marketing, small business, technical “backend” systems, and a whole new language of SEO, HTML, B2B, copywriting, white papers, sales letters, analytics, “black hat,” “long-tail keywords”… a new vocabulary and alphabet soup that competes with special education in its complexity.

Evaluation: A blog made sense for a story like Aaron’s, which continues every day. I needed to increase my learning curve and find mentors. So, same goal of spreading the inclusion message with words, different format–book to story to specific blog and potential business.

Evolution Two: Climbing Every Mountain Blog

Revised Revised Goal 1: I want to share Aaron’s STORY and create an online community for people who care about adults with disabilities and pay its expenses. Again, same goal, specific format and possible business.

As Special Education has been attacked and adults with disabilities are given few options, even an idealist like myself knows the hope of an inclusive community has deteriorated and become even more elusive but… the journey continues. We can’t give up; we have to keep climbing that mountain.

Action Step for Aaron’s inclusion: (Walking the Talk) In the last couple months Aaron moved into a new home closer to ours, began a new day program and new residential provider. I made changes in Aaron’s life and showed our county how to start some inclusive programs. This gives me the credibility and authentic voice to share my ideas.

Action Step for blog: After much encouragement (thank you everyone), I finally began my blog http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com in July, 2010.

Evaluation: Most feedback has been positive, but a good friend said she quit reading my blog because my posts were negative and focused on my son’s “sucky life” when I should only be talking about the good things that happen to him—that comment paralyzed my writing.

My previous lack of confidence, self-esteem, courage, technical skills and motivation are nothing compared to that bullet to my heart. Is she right? Is my writing helping or hurting others?

Success Stories:

The good news is:

I’ve had amazing visitors who are leaders in the fields of both Inclusion and Social Media.

Professors from two university special education programs assigned my blog for their classes.

A state autism agency wants to feature my blog on their site.

Statistics:

As of today, I have 135 subscribers and have written 137 posts. I’m proud of my content, but there are few readers with almost no comments or discussion–certainly not the “basecamp community” I had hoped for.

In April CEM averaged about 30 readers a day and visit duration was 1:47 minutes. There is about an 80% bounce rate.

Each post takes me about 6-10 hours to write and format.

I’ve taken online courses, and as I recovered from recent health issues I identified several problems: no niche viability, no products, and I am the most untechy person you will ever meet.

How Damn Fine Words (link) could change my life.

Specific ways DFW would help be become a better writer and change my life:

I want to write powerful and important stories with information which can change people’s lives. DFW will teach me better ways to tell the story and teach information

I have an important story that only I can tell. DFW will give me the external validity that I am on target and my writing does reflect my mission. The members of DWF are not part of special education or Disability World, so their honest objective advice will help me evaluate the success of my message for a general audience.

My story is about the journey, it does not have a typical happy ending (no one is cured or ever will be). So I need to have humor, optimism and inspire others in their own, equally difficult, journeys. DFW will suggest guidelines and give me objective advice regarding finding a balanced approach.

When my friend says my posts are negative, is she right? Am I wallowing in a pessimistic attitude and self-pity? DFW and the student forums could give me a clue. This would change my emotional life.

Because of the complexity of the message, I need to write simply, with clarity and stick to one message at a time. DFW will teach me achieve message discipline.

My blog needs to be technically sound. DFW will give me technical advice i.e. I have no idea how to create bullets or get to be an Amazon affiliate.

I want to have great content for the state website. DFW will help me structure my posts and hopefully speed up my writing process.

I have several articles I could make into eBooks or PDF handouts. DFW could give me advice.

I would like to create some video and other media for my blog. DFW could give pointers and the confidence to stretch my skills.

I would like to learn more about becoming a freelance writer. This new career would significantly change my life. DFW has that information.

I would like to monitize my blog enough to cover expenses and perhaps make purchases like a video camera and document scanner. DFW might be able to help me.

Bottom Line:

In Special Ed lingo, Damn Fine Words would be the related service.

In regular words, Damn Fine Words would help me up my game and ease my anxiety:

Are my current efforts a waste of time and energy?

Am I helping people get the information and encouragement they need to change their lives?

Am I good enough?

How can I get better?

Damn Fine Words would help me answer these questions and move forward.

I think Damn Fine Words (LINK) is the answer. I’d like quick miracles of course, but it would be an honor to mentor with James and learn whatever she thinks is necessary. I like to be around people I consider “THE BEST.” James has great values and experience. I’ve already learned so much from Men with Pens. I like to learn. I like to be in classes where there are high expectations, structureed lessons, deadlines and a teacher who, if needed, will kick butt.

I don’t deny I need the confidence, self-esteem and encouragement to take risks. I don’t deny that I get scared that if I fail in this, I will need to rethink my life goals and start over.

My outcome and true measure of success would be to end the Damn Fine Words (LINK) course with new knowledge, new friends, something to sell on my blog and a guest post ready to submit to Men with Pens. This would indeed change my life.

Dear Readers of CEM,

You might also want to enter this contest. Many of you have talked about starting your own blogs. Need is relative. I have more financial resources than some, less than others. I’m sure there are others who are more worthy.

My thoughts in this post on writing may or may not have been interesting to you. But at least you know I keep trying to get better and see the evolution of my thinking on writing. Only time will tell if I make it from the caterpillar to the butterfly.

I hope you will also keep journals and document the stories in your lives. Our silence gives the power to the people who are lazy, abuse us and reinforces the status quo. Can there be any more important goal for each of us then to tell our story and share the journey? Our children’s future depends on our writing, our voices, our advocacy.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best, Mary

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4 Responses to “DFW| Writing to Change Lives”

  • Mary – As usual, another great blog! I really hope you win, because no one is more deserving! It’s not that your writing is excellent (although it is), what distinguishes your posts from many blogs is that it’s clearly written from the heart. Good luck!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Becke, glad this made sense. Even if I don’t win, it’s good that I could dream a little and organize my thoughts on what I want to do. But, you’re right, I can’t seem to be objective and just treat this like a business–I think it is a mom thing.

      I was encouraged that yesterday the advocacy group ADAPT blocked all the entrances to a federal building and got the stalled proposed regulations for community living sent to Congress. Somehow we all have to concentrate on moving forward and making positive change happen. Words and actions can make a difference.

  • Wow, how wonderful Mary. You give fantastic reasons for wanting this scholarship. And you want it sooo bad! You are so right, you do have an important story to tell and it is important to tell it right, so that it gets the widest possible audience and can change the greatest number of lives. I hope you win. Good luck!
    Alison Golden recently posted..22 Sure-Fire Tips to Beat Sugar Cravings to a Pulp

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Alison. Actually, meeting someone like you is one of the best reasons for having a blog. You are on the other side of the continent, I’ve never met you and yet you’re an inspiration and a friend. That’s pretty neat.

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