She’s Wordy and Wonderful

A Tribute to My Mom

I was twelve.
“I love your story, honey. Let’s see if we can make that opening more vivid.”

My mother gently held my first “mature” short story in her hands. My main character (who like so many protagonists bore a striking resemblance to the author—me, at age twelve) rode a train to Mexico and while on a shopping expedition, got lost.

I wrote the first draft in purple marker. Only a mother would wade through that.

And she did. My mom found all the places of imagination and affirmed them. She identified the crisis and praised it. She laughed at the right moments.

Then with quick and precise comments that made me see possibilities, rather than errors, she deftly re-opened the story by suggesting a little dialog and some “stage business” (as we say in theater). Instead of starting with the usual, “My family took a trip to Mexico” she suggested I begin with a card game between the heroine and her best friend wherein the discussion could turn to the protagonist’s upcoming trip.


I could write that.

And what a difference it made! Suddenly the little story stood up. It felt like the novels I loved to read. I turned it in for a grade and instead received such praise from my teachers that they shared it with the whole class.

I was fifteen.
My first research paper for Honor’s English class. I wanted to be good at it. Expository writing felt like the Olympics of writing and I wanted that gold medal or to at least make the team. So I dove into my topic without help: James Thurber. I made notecards and I read his writing. I wrote a draft. I rewrote it. I edited it.

Due the next morning, I started to type what would be a fifteen-page paper at about 1:00 p.m. Those were not the days of the delete key or cutting and pasting. My first two pages were riddled with errors… and had to be re-typed.

I glanced at the clock and my stomach dropped to the floor: Daylight Savings time. I had already lost an hour…and then I lost my will and faith and any remaining typing ability. Teardrops smudged the ink on the first two pages.

“Give me your draft, sweetheart. We’ll sit together and get this done.”

I relented. She could help me. Fingers flew over the keys without error. As my mom typed, she offered editorial feedback with enthusiasm and friendliness. I didn’t mind because her advice always worked.

We got that paper done after hours at the typewriter and she never complained once. I made the team. Expository writing became my favorite writing form.

I was seventeen.
I filled out my college application on my own. My mother’s life had been turned upside down—no husband, living on her own, trying to make ends meet. I wrote the college entrance application essay and she asked to read it.

“Julie, let’s start with a hook. Sit and talk for a minute about what you imagine life after college will be like for you. I’ll take notes.”

I closed my eyes and saw an older version of me jogging on the beach with an Irish Setter at my heels. I saw myself returning to my beach pad where I poured myself a cup of tea and studied my script for the movie I would be in.

And so my essay began, “Jogging through the wet sand in my blue sweats with my Irish Setter at my heels….”

That essay caught the attention of my composition teacher. He dittoed it off and it became the model for all his seniors for how to write an essay to get into university.

I was thirty.
I had three kids who loved the library. I fell in love with children’s literature and so I wrote a children’s book: single-spaced and much too short… and sent it to my mother.

By now you know what she did: she praised it. She found many good things in that little poorly written story and then honed in on the key areas I could expand the writing and make it better. (And she mentioned I ought to double space in future).

She sent me advice for how to submit it for publication and she offered to help me write the cover letters. That week, a book on how to write children’s picture books appeared in my mailbox, sent to me from her personal library.

Once I began to study the craft, I saw how woefully I had fallen short. But my mother never told me that. She believed in me so completely, I steadily improved the piece until I received good feedback from editors.

My mother, Karen O’Connor, has been a writer for over thirty years. She’s published literally hundreds of magazine articles, 52 books and has taught writing for over 25 years. She knows good writing. And she writes really well.

So imagine my delighted shock when I received an email from her last week saying that she’s excited about a new writing adventure of her own: romantic comedies for seniors. And just to be sure she does it right, she signed up… for a writing class.

At 67 years old as of April 8, 2005, my mother is eager to grow, to offer her work for the same kind of critique and praise she’s so generously given over the years to earnest, new writers everywhere (me, chief among them). Always a learner, eager to make a contribution, she lives a life that sees possibilities. This focus in her outlook has literally touched thousands of people’s lives.

Because of my mom, I am not afraid to write, to express myself in writing. My mother is the original brave writer in my life. She is also a brave mother and writing coach who has modeled to me what it is to love the writer in each of us.

Thank you, Mom, for seeing the tender soul of the writer in the bad writing and helping to transform that self-expression into a satisfying product that reveals the depths of that soul. You do it so well. When I grow up, I want to be just like you.

I love you,

P.S. Happy Birthday!

4 Responses to “She’s Wordy and Wonderful”

  1. Bonita says:

    This is so lovely. I am in tears.

  2. Susanne says:

    Lovely, lovely, Julie. I hope and pray that I can be the kind of writing coach and encourager that your mother is. My daughter aspires to be a writer/illustrator, and I want to support her as she follows her dreams.

    Today’s blog entry has truly blessed and inspired me. Thanks so much for sharing your story with all of us who desire to be Brave Moms and Brave Writers.

  3. Alana says:

    Thanks so much for sharing about your Mom, Julie. She is lovely. Reading this motivates and inspires me to encourage and build-up my children instead of pointing out the flaws and errors. I truly hope that my children some day say, “Because of my mom, I am not afraid to write, to express myself in writing.” Thanks for a great success story.

  4. Wow, Julie!! What a beautiful tribute to your mom!! I was so touched by it and inspired in so many ways! First, that I can help my own children see the gem in their own writing simply by encouraging them, affirming them and giving gentle suggestions. Second, that I myself can continue to grow as a writer! I’m impressed and tickled that your mom is going to be writing romance novels for seniors! I pray that I will still be writing strong when I get to my senior years!

    Thank you for sharing and God Bless!