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My Story

One of my most cherished possessions is a loose-leaf binder containing poems I typed on a manual Smith-Corona when I was 10.  I had a quirky, fresh humor in “The Mad Storekeeper.”  I wrote with the same passion that I had for catching softballs in Philadelphia playgrounds with my brother’s brown leather glove or watching the I Love Lucy show each day at lunch time breaks from Carnell Elementary.

But something went wrong, which often happens before something goes right.  My pleasure in creating stories for my Philadelphia junior high’s Fels Chips magazine and the Megaphone newspaper of Northeast High School didn’t say to me—“become a writer”. Nor did anyone else.

Still, after studying sociology and social work in college at the University of Michigan, I took a computer class in Fortran, then saw a computer manual and thought, ‘I can write that!’ I was hired for my first job in Cambridge, England, where my husband and I lived for two years and had a baby—our older daughter Alison.  I wrote professionally and successfully as a technical writer, and fifteen years later taught everything I knew to eager college students. Yes, I was earning a living as a writer.  I was teaching at a college.  My manuals won awards.

But if you’ve ever felt unfulfilled, like something is missing in your life, you know how I felt.

My budding sideline as a freelance journalist poured some sweet salve into this gnawing feeling.  It was only when I ended up in Taos, New Mexico, scribbling furiously on a journal page at a writing workshop with 50 others, that I felt home in my own heart.  This is what I learned:  to let my mind play and explore.  To not judge writing when the words hit the page.

You got to be kidding me, you say.  Not judge writing?

I’m sure you’re doing that right now with these words I am typing on my Dell laptop in the window table of Ann Arbor’s Sweetwater’s Cafe.  But the reality is to get past the fear of “will it be good enough?” we need to say, as my writing mentor Natalie Goldberg says, “Feel free to write the worst junk in America.”

And when friends kept requesting my help, I began to work as a writing coach, a career that was a perfect triangulation of my love for writing, helping others (social worker!) and teaching.

Coaching high school students is particularly satisfying because I help relieve their family stress while also nurturing in others what I lacked in my senior year of Northeast High School.  With their college application essays, awkward and unsure students discover who they are and what they want to do, and then are admitted to the colleges and universities they’ve dreamed of.

Coaching adults is satisfying in a different way.  Their deep gratitude is humbling.  And their writing results are different…a published book (e.g. Everything (Almost) in Its Place), a website, a snappy biography, a personal story to share with family and friends.

My unique career is difficult to summarize in a word or two, because I have enjoyed the challenges of developing so many skills.  I write about health, spirituality, education, technology, business, and people in my life.  I coach business people, educators and students.  I work with individuals and teach workshops.

But I’m all about one thing—positively believing in yourself, and the power of your writing.   Everyone can write.

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Essay Coaching Site:  About Debbie

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