Linda Sapadin, PhD
An Unusual Beginning
“My mother giving advice is like the Cookie Monster eating cookies; she’s a natural!” That was my son Glenn’s response to the New York Times reporter when asked his thoughts about mom becoming the next “Ann Landers.”
That was 1987. I was still in graduate school. No, I didn’t replace Ann Landers, but I was chosen as a finalist from more than 11,000 contestants who answered the Chicago Sun-Times’ call for a new advice columnist. Those were heady days with a photo interview for People magazine, a lead story in the New York Times, a front-page story in Newsday, and a host of radio and print interviews.
As my 15 minutes of fame receded, my writing career forged ahead. I was an instant local celebrity, receiving my own radio show, and a weekly advice column. What an amazing portal to building a private practice! And to think, I was still a few months short of receiving my PhD.
My unusual entry into the writing world has enriched my life by opening doors that I had never anticipated. Here are a few examples.
Getting published by a mainstream publisher. As a teenager, I had a vague dream about writing a book, possibly a trashy novel with some lurid sex scenes. No, that didn’t happen, but I have had three self-help books published by major publishers which were translated into Korean, Japanese and French. I have been treated to a whirlwind book tour and been a guest on front-runner TV and radio shows including the Today Show, Good Morning America, Voice of America, and NPR.
Being invited to amazing places. When the invitation arrived to attend Renaissance Weekend, I almost threw it out. Renaissance, what’s that? A medieval festival with jousting matches? Boy, was I wrong. It’s an invitation-only retreat for world innovators to come together, celebrate ideas, and forge relationships. I have been on discussion panels with Howard Gardner, Betty Friedan, Dr. Ruth and Gail Sheehy and met astronauts, ambassadors, presidential candidates, and top cancer researchers. Wow! How did I get so lucky? Someone (never found out who) fell in love with my book and invited me to this amazing symposium.
Another surprising invitation was from the Smithsonian Institution. Three times, I had the pleasure of speaking (and selling books) in that venerable lecture hall.
Maintaining a thriving insurance-free private practice. For almost three decades, I’ve written a weekly column for my local newspaper. Because of that, people in my community know me and trust me. Hence, when an individual is looking for a therapist, whose name do you think comes to mind? No more being an anonymous “provider.”
Lessons Learned from My Writing Career
Avoid being academic. Academic writing can be difficult to read and boring. Yes, we had to deal with it as grad students, but the public doesn’t. Be boring and your readers are gone. Writers need to hook their readers’ attention immediately with writing that is enlightening and entertaining. For example, instead of advising your readers not to be so rigid, you might suggest to them that it would be cool to develop more “flex appeal.” Nothing like a play on words to sustain interest.
Cut mercilessly. Refrain from falling in love with any phrase or sentence. If it doesn’t fit, you must omit. Move on to a sharper thought, a crisper insight. Make the delete key your best buddy as you shorten your sentences and tighten your text.
Snap up the ideas all around you. People often ask me: “How do you get your ideas?” Having written on many different topics over the years, I have learned that ideas are everywhere. An idea for an article might originate from a mundane thought with a fresh spin on it, i.e., Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity. Or, a thought stimulated by an overheard conversation, i.e., “How to Argue with a Difficult Person.” Or, a reflection on the news, such as a politician’s pathetic apology (“If I offended anyone, I’m sorry”), begging for an explanation of what constitutes an authentic apology. Of course, once an idea grabs you, the tough challenge is to compose a concise, crisp article from the original notion.
Make time to write. Many people have shared with me their dream to be an author, yet they’ve never written a page. Somehow, they believe it should just happen. Not possible. You need to carve out a sacrosanct time to write. Maintaining a regular writing schedule makes the writing process easier, not harder. I like Julie Andrews’s take on the matter when she said, “Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it’s a kind of order that sets me free to fly.”
Consider Indie and Internet publishing. No need to keep your writing local. In the last few years, I’ve created my own publishing company, PsychWisdom Publishing, publishing three more books. My articles now appear on John Grohol’s amazing website PsychCentral. Also, I publish my own e-newsletter, PsychWisdom, which has grown from a small list of family and friends to almost 1100 subscribers in countries as diverse as Norway, India, Romania and Australia. It sure is a global world!
Hope you enjoyed reading about my writing journey. If I’ve helped to kindle or re-kindle your love of writing, you have made my day.