- Guest Writer -
Welcome to the life and times of a freelance writer and inspirational speaker, mother and vocalist - MARIBEL STEEL. Maribel lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner and teenage son. She was diagnosed at fifteen with an incurable eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Her passion is to write stories that take the reader on a guided tour, exploring the rich texture of life. She has self-published a book of short stories (memoir) and has several articles featured in various journals in print and online. Maribel believes in crafting a meaningful life by mastering ‘The Art of being Blind’, the topic of an upcoming e-book and presentation.
Welcome, Maribel ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
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The journey began once upon a childhood, when my father breathed life into the fairy tale characters at bedtime. Little did we know that a few years later, one of my favourite fables would foreshadow a similar life challenge. Like Thumbelina, I was confronted with having to accept a ‘darkening of the sunlight’ when an unexpected diagnosis of pending blindness threatened to drag me into a world void of visual images. At seventeen, I was determined to keep chasing the light along my life’s journey.
A few decades later, having become a mother and aromatherapist, story teller and vocalist, I was still facing the gateway to blindness, so I decided to start jotting down my autobiography as a gift for my children. Jottings meandered into short stories, short stories skipped with playful curiosity to enter writing competitions, encouraging words of support boosted morale and a desire for refining personal vignettes – and before I knew it, I had fallen in love with the art of writing.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I view being a writer as similar to caring for a productive garden. Crafting stories is a highly creative process that demands the same sort of patience, pride and care. I love taking note of particular words people use and keep them in a word file, just as I gather the seeds of my sunflowers.
Little seeds of inspiration germinate in the mind and one feels compelled to nurture the growth of a story from its kernel-idea and tend to its every need as it takes shape in your thoughts and on paper: to prune paragraphs and weed out insignificant sentences, to watch out for ‘wordy-worms’, and to graft ideas into place as the story matures to become the final draft – before fulfilling its potential as a published article.
One of the joys for me as a writer, is capturing the essence of what it means to live as a vision-impaired person, and take the reader on a sensory journey to discover a world unseen.
Maribel writing in the Australian bush
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The balancing act, juggling time: being mother and wife on one hand, writer on the other. Nothing is more frustrating than having to interrupt a great creative spurt of writing or editing to do a mundane chore like hunter-gathering at the local supermarket because my family expect more than a bowl of carrots for dinner – spoilt little rabbits.
The other aspect of being a freelance writer I find difficult is meeting someone else’s publishing deadline. Accepting completion dates is a crucial ingredient to being a writer or one might procrastinate indefinitely but somehow, the pressure of someone waiting to approve the story idea you pitched can create performance anxiety. Will they accept my article? Will I have to rewrite it all over again? Can I maintain the balance of time for family and work while trying to accommodate the publisher’s deadline? So it is with enormous relief when the final draft is accepted by the editor.
“I love deadlines.
I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
One key tip that might help a new writer avoid being completely crushed by rejection letters: Don’t take it too personally. I have learned that when one of my short stories has been unsuccessful for a writing contest or did not pique the interest of a magazine editor, naturally I am a little peeved at first but then I take my focus off the ‘closed door’ and begin to look around for a different entry point to other avenues. I want to find the ‘right’ place for my writing where it can be truly appreciated, so it is actually not a bad thing for it to boomerang back – I just have to try again and hit the right target.
My other tip is that it is crucial to pay attention to the words of others in little phrases, quotes, lyrics – and candid conversations you hear and jot them down straight away in a journal or computer file. At those times when you want to write an authentic scene between characters, you will have these mini-scenarios already noted and be able to rework them to suit your story. I have a friend who tells me fabulous tales from real life who sometimes adds at the retelling of the saga, “yes, you can use that one in your story too!”
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
My own writing genre is nonfiction so when I want to simply relax with a great book, I tend to disappear into the world of fiction. Sometimes I love listening (with audio books) to the complexity woven by the magic hand of Irish fiction writer Maggie O’Farrell, or take a journey back to Victorian England with Australian author, Kate Morton, who brings her characters alive in such a captivating way that I feel I could touch them. I admire these two authors immensely. Their writing techniques are seamless and appear effortless at every twist and turn of their masterful plots.
I also like to follow the work of skilled biographers, like Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette, the Journey. This book would have to be in my top five favourite books simply because the author has so skilfully intertwined the threads of 18th century French history into the complex tapestry of one family’s biography. Oh, to be so brilliant!
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Very much so. I write from my vision-impaired perspective to dispel some of the myths sighted people have projected on to me in terms of what they think it is like to live with blindness. By writing from my vantage point, it is like opening a window and bringing a fresh outlook for them to consider.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
There are so many things I love: to collect European perfumes and smell fragrant flowers, to dip and dive in the ocean like a dolphin, to sift through the sensual textures of gem stones, to tease and laugh with my children, to sip champagne in celebration of life, to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of horses and to be caught up in the sound of music, literally. I love to sing in harmony, compose lyrics and record songs with my partner, Harry Williamson. I also love to travel and to research an itinerary where we can make the most of touching foreign landscapes.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Over the next twelve months, I hope to complete several writing projects. One is a series of blog posts called, The Art of Being Blind, which I would like to publish as an ebook. Another mission, is to complete a travel series called, Touching the Sights of France, which I have been posting on my travel blog.
Ah, but wait…there’s one more exciting seedling of a writing project that has sprouted to demand attention over the past few days! I’m just nurturing it along at the moment, a NEW direction to grow my audience on Touching Landscapes for 2014 – so I’ll keep you posted.
Maribel and her son in the UK
(for the things I love other than writing)
WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
When I first came across the term, ‘Build your writer’s platform,’ I wondered what the heck that meant to me as a writer? So I turned to the omnipotent-Google oracle to fire up its search engines and soon found I was caught up in marketing jargon: all the experts telling me how to brand myself? Ouch!
But it wasn’t as painful as I imagined – it’s a journey across cyberspace that I enjoy on a regular basis! Even though the research on how to create a brand has taken away some of my writing time, I have also noticed a huge benefit in how to network effectively in my niche when I put focused energy into marketing strategies. As the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” – so my advice is, learn how to SQUEAK loud and clear!
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Success comes in curious increments. Every story, every article I have buffed and polished to the best of my writing ability to present to a reader, is the point where I can enjoy the initial feeling of success. If the voice of my inner critic can’t knock any more pieces off its edges, and my editor has combed through the prose to shine and buff the piece some more, this is the second stage of success.
A third phase to success comes when readers respond with compliments I could never have imagined – which are gratefully stored in a ‘warm and fuzzy’ file to use as leverage to convince the inner critic who, at times, tries to belittle past ‘success’.
Finally, I would like to share this quote that captures for me, the true meaning of personal success:
“To laugh often and much,
“To laugh often and much,
to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends,
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others,
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition,
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,
THIS is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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