Philip L Ransom: Member of the Month, May 2009

It’s always interesting to learn more about our Member of the Month, and this month is no exception. As you read through Phil’s interview, I think you’ll enjoy his interesting history and clear, articulate writing voice. You’ll find his member site at PhilipRansom.NAIWE.com.

Listen to the interview as a podcast!

Q: Please share a little of your professional history with our readers.

I’ve enjoyed good writing as long as I can remember.  Bed-time stories were great times for me as a boy, and I remember thinking a time or two as I grew up, “It’d be fun to write like that.”  We have some excellent joke and storytellers in our family so I learned fairly young how to tell a joke or story – and tell it well.

My high school guidance counselor was all excited to inform me one day that I was the first in Colorado to ace the composition portion of the SAT test, and tried to convince me to major in English so I could teach.

I majored in music, though, working as a contracted typist my last two years of college.  After graduation I accepted a position working with musicians and students in a Nebraska church. One of the two high school English teachers in our congregation saw a letter I wrote to a student who was moving away, in which I described how to start well in a new place.  She encouraged me to edit and re-write it with publication in mind. I began to write more, with those two teachers quietly encouraging me.  I enjoyed the process and a couple years later compiled a 90 minute Christmas work in which I chose the music and writing the narratives for between the songs. It was well received, and I was hooked.

Collaborating with other creative people is a great way to work.  Two of my favorite collaborative products are one, a musical drama built around Paul Harvey’s Christmas story, The Man and the Birds. A colleague and I wrote the script and chose the music.  Then he worked with the cast and I with the musicians. I remember the “rush” of seeing our thoughts and words come to life on the stage, affecting the people in the audience.  The other is a work in which a talented volunteer and I co-wrote and produced what we titled “An Unexpected Hope”.  We wrote for a small cast of five and choir, but also integrated several video segments we filmed off-site in advance for use on the large screens in our facility.  It told the story of two estranged sisters coming home to be with their dad his first Christmas after their mother passed away.  The tension was so thick in opening scenes you could feel it, which heightened the sense of relief when they began to reconcile.  We didn’t solve everything in “Unexpected Hope”; we wanted to leave something for people to talk about afterward over dessert!  It found its mark.

I served a while as public relations manager for a listener-supported radio network.  In that role I learned to write in the President’s “voice”.  I wrote most of the correspondence related to his speaking engagements and he’d sign what I wrote. I enjoyed studying how he would say things, crafting my words to fit his style.

I’ve since written for individuals and organizations, non-profits and companies. It is first a challenge, then a rush to learn each project’s specifications and write to those ends.  There’s nothing like sticking the landing with well-written prose!

Q: How and when did you make this business a reality?

In 1993, between jobs, living with my in-laws, and no leads for employment in view, I said to my wife,  “I’m NOT going to sit here and cry to myself. I’m going to find something I can do well and start working for myself.”  I spent several days in the library, where writing surfaced as what I’d really like to do if I was going to be my own boss.  About the same time a church music magazine replied to a query and I wrote what would prove to be a cover / feature article for them. In the article I described the method I had developed to teach K-8 kids the lyrics to our all-school musicals with perfect, long-term recall (and it was fun, which always helps when you’re working with kids). I wrote for several companies and individuals that year, then accepted a full-time position and the writing business took a back seat again for a while.  Finally, in 2006 I said “OK, it’s time” and chose the name Vibrance for my little company / consultancy.  Vibrance means “very much alive.”

Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your career?

Steady, consistent effort out performs bursts of ambition.   Every time I read The Tortoise and the Hare  the tortoise wins.  So I’ve learned to maintain a writer’s mentality all the time and keep at it, a little bit every day. I’m most productive when I write consistently, I remind myself to continually be aware of and gracious toward the people around me.  I never know when a future client could be in the room, and no one gets a second chance at a first impression.

Q: Are you working on any personal writing projects at this time?

I’m assisting a major healthcare manufacturer while a staffer is out on maternity leave. In that role I’m supervising the documentation process for things the FDA would want to see in an audit. It’s exacting and precise work – makes creative writing feel even more creative!

I’m helping a local travel agency develop the religious and educational facet of its business, which includes brochures, letters, press releases and a growing web presence.

I’m writing two novellas (9,000 – 10,000 words)  for an Australian periodical.

I write several times a week for my blog  (http://vibrance.wordpress.com) and am thinking about starting another blog targeting personal productivity.  I need to do some more infrastructural work on that idea, though, before I jump in.  If I can’t do it with excellence, I’d better say no.  Or at least “not yet”.

Q: What are some of the teachers, books, or authors who have influenced your professional life in a positive way?

As I look back on everything, I’d have to say Mr. Herbst, my sixth grade teacher, probably kick-started creativity in my young mind. He was remarkably creative, and I learned well under him.  We studied the Inca, Maya and Aztec cultures that year, and for Mexico we wrote a play as a class. We used the entire blackboard, him writing as we “wrote” together.  A classmate with good penmanship would copy the half of the board we just finished while we wrote the next “page” on the other half.  When we finished the script he had it typed and gave us all copies, then we memorized and performed it for the whole school.  I’ve never done anything like that since, but wow did I learn – and we had fun!

Jerry Jenkins, novelist, editor and educator, taught a graduate-level class called Writing With Confidence.  I learned a lot from him about quality in the writing process, and how to consistently produce for a targeted readership.  Two things he taught us stand out in my memory:  1)  Good writers are better re-writers than writers.  Most projects and documents will go through six or seven re-writes and ambitious edits before they are ready for the public. (This interview is no exception.)    2)  To write well, one must write; even when there’s no deadline pushing you.  “What’s good writing look like?” he smiled, “The seat of the pants in the seat of the chair. Now write.”

Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion, has an engaging and captivating story-telling style.  My parents introduced me to PHC when my wife and I were home for a visit one time, and I fell in love with the way he spins a tale. I’ve since studied his methods.  My tours at Ten Chimneys (http://tenchimneys.org) are Keillor-esque by design, and I’ve written about a dozen monologues in his style we used in PHC-style Thanksgiving Eve services fashioned after live radio broadcasts.

My aunt Pauline, a retired English and Literature teacher, encouraged me and urged me forward at a time when I wasn’t very sure of myself. I respect and value what she drew out of me in a creative sense.

Mark Bergren’s “Improvise This!” helped me see there’s instant creativity available if I’ll just tap into it and keep the faucet open!  It’s an innovative, fun read, and I devoured the whole book on one flight across the country, but it had a significant influence on me.

Strunk and White – Elements of Style.  I reach for that little book often!

Q: As a seasoned professional, what advice would you offer an independent writer or editor who is just beginning a career?

Oh, my!  I’d say “Keep reminding yourself it will probably take longer to get rich by writing than it would if I farmed. Or shined shoes at the airport.”  Because it probably will.  But if it’s what you enjoy, write. Write. Enjoy the process, enjoy the pleasure you derive from writing –and writing well.  Don’t let discouragement put a cap on your fountain pen or close the lid on your laptop.  Just as it’s easier to steer a car that’s moving, even slightly, it’s easier to maneuver as a writer when you’re writing, even if it seems insignificant at the time.

Q: What inspires you?

Seeing those little bits of wonderful word-smithing here and there, knowing I’m responsible for them.

Hearing back from readers that something I said touched them, made their day, urged them on.

And, there’s a little global map on my Vibrance blog that shows where people live who have read something I’ve written.  I see that map grow each year and think to myself, “Really?  From the other side of the world?  Amazing!  I’ll keep on!”

Q: How has your membership in NAIWE benefited you professionally?

Because so much of my writing has been for in-house organs, as they’re called, I needed a professional association that adds credence to my work to date.  Some writers can point to this publisher or that for evidence that they write well; my writing has been for different genres.  So NAIWE helps me establish that credibility.  I like the name, the logo is attractive, and the personal web-site / blog provides that quick overview a busy manager or independent business owner needs to help him or her decide to talk further about an upcoming need.   I’m still in my first year with NAIWE so I look forward to the benefits of a long-term association.  Could be quite the story!   I hope so.

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