When I first started blogging I did what I expect most people do and I googled “how to start a blog.” That’s how I landed on starting my blog on WordPress, found a supportive creative community, and met the wonderfully talented writer, Rebecca Moon Ruark.
I’m so excited to introduce you to Rebecca with this Q&A. If you are itching to get your words onto paper, wondering how to balance passion with necessity, or need a reminder about the power of being resilient in your creative pursuits, Rebecca has you more than covered.
Let’s Meet Rebecca
Becca: Hi Rebecca! Before we dive in and I get all kinds of nosy about your work and life, can you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
Rebecca: With an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction), I use my knack for storytelling to further the mission of nonprofits—higher ed and healthcare, mostly.
After I had my twins, I transitioned from working full time to being a part-time freelancer, which suits my family. These days, I write a mean donor profile, edit a killer Q&A with a top doc, and put the art in a university magazine article, all in my pajamas.
When I’m not penning advancement and development collateral, I’ve got my creative hat on as a blogger, fiction writer, and Features Editor of Parhelion Literary Magazine.
Hat choice? Raspberry beret, the kind you find…well, you know.
Becca: Can you share a bit about your blog, Rust Belt Girl, and how you got started?
Rebecca: I started my blog, Rust Belt Girl, two years ago, knowing almost nothing about blogging—except that it would allow me to connect with a writing community, when I can’t be there on the ground.
Homesickness is not the best reason to start a blog, but it’s not the worst. Not only have I connected with other writers and readers in and around my native spot of Northeast Ohio, I’ve connected with bloggers in far-flung corners of the U.S.—like you!—and world. Bloggers are the nicest folks, hands-down; I will die on that hill.
Writing-wise, the blog has also helped me hone my interviewing and essay-writing skills, making me better at my job and my creative pursuits. 2019 blog coup: “My interview with Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas,” was selected by WordPress as a Discover Feature.
She’s Got the Write Stuff
Becca: What else are you working on now that you are excited about?
Rebecca: My new gig as Features Editor of Parhelion Literary Magazine happened because of my blog—at least in part. I’d had a short story published in the magazine, and then the founder said she checked out Rust Belt Girl and liked what I was writing there.
After many years of submitting my own creative writing to literary magazines, it’s eye opening to be on the other side the “desk.”
Becca: Let’s talk rejection.
What I’ve learned about writing is that you need to be both open to critique and have a thick skin. It’s a balance of learning and fully understanding that not everyone is going to like your stuff, which can be hard because creativity can be very personal. How have you experienced critique and rejection in your writing career and how have you dealt with it?
Rebecca: Truer words, Becca…
During my MFA workshops, I endured the process whereby your fiction—blood, sweat, and tears in story form—is critiqued, sometimes harshly, and you must grin and bear it in silence. This kind of critique session has come under some fire lately, but the idea is still sound, I think.
Writers must be open to critique and feedback, and a thick skin is necessary. I’ve been able to put mine to good use lately, querying agents about my historical novel. Rejections are part of the process, and I have learned a lot.
For one, writing is subjective. Two, the same feedback from different reviewers should make a writer take note. Third, patience is key. The wonderful thing about blogging is that we get almost instant feedback—in stats and likes and comments—to our writing. This is so very different from the creative writing world I also inhabit.
Becca: On the more positive side, what has been your favorite piece you’ve ever written and why?
I covered my first big event, for work, last winter, which meant conducting a lot of interviews on the fly. For a couple days I felt like “the press,” and definitely out of my English-major-in-pajamas comfort zone.
On the creative end of things, Little Patuxent Review published a short story of mine in their winter 2019 issue called “While Our Grown Men Played.” Straddling story and memoir, I started writing that piece as a bit of therapy, while my mom was suffering from cancer. I sent it out to a few journals, which rejected it, and then I revised and revised it—in all, 15 times. Over more than a dozen years, the piece was rejected 58 times before it found its home in a beautiful journal.
So…patience and perseverance. And reading from the story at the issue launch event gave me a little cathartic closure, which I needed.
The Career Sweet Spot
Becca: How have you found your career sweet spot as a writer?
Have you made a career swivel to find it? My career coach mind defines “career sweet spot” as the intersection between your passions/interests, skills, and the value you bring to others.
Rebecca: As for ultimate career aspirations, I love the image of the full-time novelist and short story writer holed up in her library carrel—so much generative solitude! But the value-in-trade of me doing that work is low at this point. And my family likes to eat, and I like the work I do for clients.
Over my eight years as a freelance writer, I’ve been doing my own version of swiveling. I’ve been scooching—scooching away from some kinds of writing toward writing that combines more of my interests and skills, challenges me more, and buys more groceries. I still write a good piece of direct mail, but conducting interviews and writing profiles and in-depth articles draws on—and informs—my creativity. It’s busy, but definitely sweet.
Becca: How did you make the transition to freelance work?
Any recommendations for someone looking to make this jump?
Rebecca: My transition to freelancing happened pretty organically.
My first freelance client was the university I had worked for before I had kids. (In communications, there’s always something to outsource.) My second client was a marketing company that handled that university’s printing and mailing of annual fund solicitations (you know, the junk—er, direct—mail from your alma mater); they needed a writer for these, and I wasn’t about to turn my nose up because I wouldn’t receive a byline. When a former colleague left one university for another, he took me and my writing services with him…and so on.
I developed my client base through word of mouth (i.e. don’t burn your bridges), not from online job boards that pit writer against writer for low pay (not a fan). And I expanded my niche as clients threw different kinds of assignments at me or recommended me to their colleagues in other industries, like healthcare systems.
My advice to anyone looking to transition to freelance work is to use the network you probably already have, to be open to new things—and never to sell yourself short.
Becca: I’m big on the idea of laughing your way through life. What are your thoughts on laughter and how it plays into your life as parent and a professional?
Rebecca: When I was on bed rest (for three months) carrying twins, I watched the British series, The Office—when I should have been writing the next Great American Novel. Ha. You see, funny usually wins out around here, which is good, because there was little that was actually funny about twin infants.
Luckily, they have grown up to share my husband’s and my love for a laugh—and are good at eliciting them. My younger twin (by two hours—now that was fun) made me a Mom’s Day card this year that said: “Congrats on being a mom, cuz today’s your lucky day! / But tomorrow the grind begins again!” Truer words…
I also try to keep my sense of humor when it comes to work and creative writing, laughing when a project’s gone off the rails or when the rejections roll in. And as for writing humor, the blog’s been a good space for that, good training-ground for funny, like Twitter is for snark.
Becca: 90’s Rapid Fire!
NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? Tootsee Roll or Da’ Dip? Boy Meets World or Full House? Bagel Bites or Lunchables? Cucumber Melon, Cherry Blossom or Write In 90’s Flavor?
Rebecca: I was a college student in Virginia in the 90s, so I must write in: The Dave Matthews Band.
Do not make me choose! I could roll and dip at the clubs with the best of them (and all photographic evidence has been destroyed.)
Full House, now enjoying a renaissance with bad Aunt Becky.
Bagel Bites—and so much TCBY frozen yogurt!
Orange Crush Lip Smacker. (Remember the big ones on the cord you’d wear around your neck—lip gloss jewelry!)
Dropping Some Parental Knowledge
Becca: Any piece of parental wisdom you’d like to drop on us? I always like to share that my go-to piece of advice is “none of us know what we’re doing” so the bar is quite low on this.
Rebecca: That’s a good one!
When my boys were babies, an older cousin, whose boys are now in their twenties, shared some advice with me I’ve clung to: “everything’s a phase.” This was especially important to remember when potty-training x 2. And I’m sure that advice will come in handy when we’ve got twin tweens—in a couple short years!
And I’m sure I’ll still be relying on your brand of smart-funny in all things career and family, Becca!
So many thanks to Rebecca for joining us on the blog! And can we go back to rejected 58 times for a second? Think about that. 58 times someone told her “nope, not for us” and 59 times she said “I think I’ll try again.”
I hope you took a lot from Rebecca’s sense of humor and creativity, but I have to say what I took away the most was this. Don’t give up. Simple as that. If you have a passion brewing in your heart keep striving towards it, even if you are hearing no, even if you are doing other work that helps support your dream in the meantime.
Rebecca is teaching her kids a valuable lesson is not giving up, and I’m so grateful that she shared it with us too. Stay tuned for her Great American Novel because I for one know it is coming and will be first in line at my local Barnes & Noble.
Or on Amazon. More likely Amazon. Like Rebecca, I also enjoy pajamas.