As I started to think about how things were when I began writing this column 18 years ago, I realized how much things had changed on many fronts. I had to go back in my diaries to be sure I would get everything right.
The column, "View from Hickory Heights," debuted in The Post-Journal on July 15, 1994. It is a good thing I had it written ahead of time because the next weekend was my daughter's wedding.
By the time I started the column the newspaper process had improved. I was able to fax things to the editor. Of course, there was a deadline. The column needed to be in at the beginning of the week because it was in the Friday edition.
When I say things had improved I mean that I no longer had to call in and dictate my articles to the wonderful lady who transcribed them and prepared them for print. It was not easy to dictate and achieve accuracy. I always talked too fast and had to keep repeating things for her. One time I attended a meeting, but by morning I had no voice, laryngitis. That day my husband read the article over the phone for me. If you think that was not tricky you have another guess coming.
The editor asked for the column to be 1,500 words. I complied with his request. After they had it type-set he called to tell me to please make the next piece shorter. Once the column appeared it was embraced by the newspaper customers. For a couple years it ran on Friday, then, they moved it to Saturday. When the new Sunday edition came out my column was moved to that edition where it has remained ever since. I am now the Saturday lady in Warren, the Sunday lady in Jamestown and the Monday lady in Country Folks, a weekly farm paper.
The media revolution continues and I am now able to email the articles to the newspapers in a timely fashion. I can even email photos for the features that I produce. My column now appears in the online editions as well, introducing my work to many more readers.
People always want to know how I come up with the topics I write about. I read a lot. Reading the news provides the kernels that become the columns in many cases. I find a small fact, then, reminisce about my experiences. I keep a notebook with quotations that inspire me. I also put ideas for articles there so I have ready reference. My diaries that I have kept faithfully since the early 1970s also provide ideas for my work.
The history of my lovely Victorian home has provided many ideas. When we restored our home we tried to keep things as much like they were as we could. The one exception is the bay window installed in the kitchen. That certainly is not a period window, but it is the frame for the countryside and the nature that is so important to me.
People have told me this place looks like a bed and breakfast. Although we have had many guests, it is really just home for me and my family. The wrap-around porch is a joy. I can sit in the old rocking chair and read or write. Yes, sometimes I begin with paper and pen even though I have access to the computer.
My move to the country was necessary because I was married to a dairy farmer for nearly 30 years. Since dairy farming is a job with something to be done every day of the year, living nearby was a necessity. It is something that I cherish. At this point my country roots run deep. I keep my hand in some as I help with small things on the farm. Often I am called upon to help with decisions.
As for the idea of writing itself, I never even considered becoming a writer. It is something that evolved as I took on additional responsibilities. When I took my master's exam I asked to be allowed to take an oral one because I was not sure of my writing skills. Even though I had to find a team to be my examination panel - my advisor said he would not do an oral exam -I completed the requirement for my master's degree in reading.
After I had the degree, I enrolled in some correspondence courses to beef up my writing skills. I thought I would write for children since I knew what they liked to read about. That was not to be the case. My talent surfaced in the non-fiction category writing memoir. From that time on I tailored my writing courses for that genre.
A stint at Chautauqua Institution proved invaluable. I learned about marketing strategies. I learned about gathering ideas. I learned how to manage my time. I look back fondly on all of the instructors who played a part in my education as a writer. No, my English is not flawless, but people understand with ease what I mean. I am not producing scholarly documents, simply pieces to entertain and inform.
The art of writing has led to the publication of four books. The most recent piece of work is a book titled "Choose Life: a Look at the Grieving Process." It is my first book in the inspiration genre. If I can help one person through the complex process of grieving for a loved one, all of my work will have been worthwhile. Everyone one goes through that process differently, but there are feelings and ideas that create a common thread.
Thank you to my faithful readers. You support me with emails, phone calls and notes. Without readers, my job as columnist would not exist.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.