To Thine Own Self Be True

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast." Oscar Wilde
The author Kristen Gill in Dublin. “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” Oscar Wilde

I’ve always loved reading and writing. Growing up with two parents who were teachers, we were always learning something. I was taught to find out what interested me and read about it. My mother also loved to correct our grammar any chance she got, so I was constantly “watching my language” (in every sense of the word, trust me!) at home. To this day, my mother is still my best editor, for she knows best that I’ve always had a problem with “it’s” and “its”.

I loved storytelling from a young age and wrote my first story about “My Grandfather, the Upholsterer” (now there’s a 25-cent word!). My teacher was so intrigued by my effort that she let me continue writing it while all the other kids napped. Little did I know then how much my writing and lack of sleep would be forever connected!

Naturally, I graduated with a degree in English Literature and Humanities, then went to graduate school to study Linguistics. It was always about language and culture for me. It still is!

1. What am I working on/writing?

I recently finished writing a Fulbright Fellowship grant application, which was one of the most intense endeavors I’ve ever tackled. The goal of my Fulbright project is to promote cultural awareness and preservation of indigenous Irish culture, specifically Irish language, music, dance, and sport, with the intent to empower the next generation of storytellers to help combat the extinction of indigenous cultures worldwide. A lofty goal, but one I’m excited to take on.

Right now I am writing technical documentation for a company called Tableau Software in Seattle, where I don’t get to use any adverbs or adjectives. Good thing my other writing is creative, and I can use many a descriptive flourish! On the back burner, I’m writing a book. It will be a collection of short stories, but one that equals a whole. I’m hoping it will be something akin to James Joyce’s Dubliners, if I could be so lucky! In fact, I might need to re-read that to give me inspiration! It’s been a very slow process…the stories have been sitting with me for some time, but are only birthed when they are good and ready to come out. I’ve got a backload that just needs to be written. My mind (and heart) will not rest until it is finished. I might have to treat myself to a long solo weekend away at the beach in order to give myself the block of time I’ll need to write these very personal stories. The last time I saw my editor for this book, I hid from him at the coffee shop, as it had been so long since I last sent him anything! But he eventually found me out and told me it doesn’t matter when I get him my next draft, just that I DO. He IS holding his breath!

In addition to the above, I write for trade magazines, consumer magazines, poetry collections, blogs, short story collections, radio transcripts, brochures, web content for commercial sites, press releases, newsletters, etc. Here are some recent storytelling examples:

2. How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

As with my approach to photography, I like to capture diverse cultures but also find the commonality between people. I love interviewing people and turning their stories into something that can speak on a universal scale. Everybody has a story to tell. So long as there is one other person in the room, I will never be bored. I am known for asking tough questions and for probing deeper. I actually had a tour operator I interviewed once break down in tears while telling me the story of his family/upbringing. I had known this person for years, but it wasn’t until I interviewed him that I learned of his fascinating tale. I feel that my personality really allows people to open up. As one of my mentors described me (which I love!): “Kristen is totally at ease with persons of all ages and backgrounds, and I was impressed with her ability to win trust and break down defenses or shyness so that stories emerged authentically and naturally.”

Because I write for so many different outlets: corporations, magazines, books, radio, etc., my writing style really varies. Some have certain rules/restrictions that need to be followed. By far the most difficult type of writing is creative writing (writing from the heart), and it’s here where I get to use my own personal style. I’m not really sure how to describe it, but, I would hope that it’s as though you were hearing me tell a tale aloud. Or that it makes you think, or perhaps remember something from your own lifetime. It has a certain colloquialism to it. I’ve always admired writers who went against the grain a bit. “To thine own self be true” said the bard, Shakespeare in Hamlet. Or, as another of my favorite writers, Oscar Wilde stated so finely: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

3. Why do I write what I do?

In short, I can’t help it. I get really edgy/anxious if I have a tale to tell, and it needs to come out. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had some pretty incredible experiences, and there is no greater joy (and sometimes sorrow) than in sharing them. I’m a great oral storyteller, and that comes really easily to me. Putting it down on paper (or typing it into my computer) seems too formal sometimes, and my quest for perfection stops me in my tracks. Now I use my handy iPhone recorder feature that lets me “speak” my story out, and then I transcribe it later.

4. How does my writing process work?

I like to work under pressure and need tight deadlines. In fact, if there are no deadlines, there will not be a finished piece of writing. I chalk this up to my college days…pulling all-nighters to finish my essays due the next morning. I liked to “live life” up until I needed to buckle down. I know intuitively when that time is. I tried as an adult to “fake” earlier deadlines, but it just doesn’t work. So, why fix something that isn’t broken? To this day I am the greatest procrastinator I know, and my best writing will come during the wee hours of the night, as my deadline looms, and when most of you are fast asleep. It’s my quiet time where I feel most creative.

This article is part of  a “Blog Hop,” started by Ellen Barone, in which writers share their views about writing. I was asked by Irene Lane, Founder of GreenLoons ( www.greenloons.com) and a contributing writer on eco-friendly tourism topics to the Huffington Post, to participate by sharing my story, and coming up with 3 other writers to join. Next week, we’ll hear from Amanda Castleman, Marc Conklin, and Keryn Means, who will post their own responses to the four questions on their respective blogs. Looking forward to it!

amanda dive

Writer and Photographer Amanda Castleman has contributed to Outside, Islands, Hemispheres and The International Herald Tribune, plus the UK’s BBC, Guardian and Mail on Sunday. Despite her yoga-and-yogurt tendencies, she’s a former wilderness guide. Her Honduras scuba article won a Lowell Thomas award (travel writing’s ersatz Pulitzer). A stringer for Yahoo and Travelgirl, she’s also worked on 30-odd books, including titles for National Geographic, Frommer’s and Rough Guides. Now Seattle-based, Amanda’s lived in Oxford, Rome, Athens, Cyprus and Turkey. She primarily teaches online through Writers.com and blogs via Road Remedies.

marc conklinMarc Conklin is writer of everything from essays and commercials to screenplays and songs. His feature-length script, “Memorial Day,” was made into an independent feature film starring Oscar®-nominated actor James Cromwell in 2012, and is now a holiday mainstay on the CW network. By day, he is the founder and creative director of Conk Creative LLC, where he does everything from concepting and writing national TV spots to ghost-writing books for company CEOs. Marc’s other writing has appeared in the Water~Stone literary journal and other publications, and he has earned awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Public Relations Society of America and the PAGE International Screenwriting competition. He is currently working on a comedic screenplay called “Pulling the Plug,” as well as a historical script based on the colorful 1930s gangster era in his current hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. But the one thing he would grab in a house fire is a three-ring binder called “The Remember Series,” which contains 25 years of unpublished travel writing.

Keryn Means 006-squareKeryn Means is a freelance writer and founder of Walking on Travels, the site that gives hope to today’s active parents who don’t want to stop their travels; they simply bring their kids along for the ride. She loves to engage and encourage families of all shapes and sizes to check their fear at the door and reach for the trip of their dreams. Keryn’s work has been featured in Parent Map magazine, Seattle’s Child magazine, Scholastic.com, Trekaroo.com, and she’s been called on as a travel expert for Fox Q13 in Seattle, as well as publications across the globe. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around Seattle most days and across the globe several times a year.

gill in vietnamAward-winning writer and photojournalist Kristen Gill has been on assignment all over the world producing content for various publications, such as The Guardian; The Seattle Times; Adventure Travel News; Travel Weekly; SUP the Mag; and more. She blogged for the women’s travel site Wanderlust & Lipstick for 7 years, and her travel pieces have appeared as radio segments on BBC’s “The World” on National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Radio International (PRI); and on CBS Travel Editor’s Peter Greenberg Worldwide. She owns and runs Kristen Gill Media (www.kristengill.com) and has also embarked on a new project called Preserving Cultures (www.preservingcultures.com), a web site devoted to conserving indigenous culture via multi-media storytelling.

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