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Personal News: After Six Years, I’m Leaving Fannie Mae

Today I’m announcing that I become a full-time freelance writer on Thursday.

It’s been an incredible six years at Fannie Mae. And that experience, combined with more than ten years’ of professional writing background, prepared me to take this next step in my career.

The services I’m offering clients include ghostwriting, blog, article, and newsletter writing. My most recent professional writing experience is in real estate and financial services. However, I’m still defining my niche, so I’m open to working in other areas. I specialize in writing content that’s optimized for search engines and engages online audiences.

If you or someone you know could use a professional writer, let’s talk. You can reach me via email (nick at bidwellhollow dot com), or through the contact form below.

Thank you for your support.

How Removing ‘That’ Can Make Your Copy Sing

The advice was confusing at first.

A man on a bicycle pointing to a street sign that reads, "Follow that dream."

“‘That’ is a stutter word for writers,” my journalism professor said, handing me a piece I’d written for his class. On the paper were lines of red ink crossing out a few “thats.”

I didn’t understand. If “that” is a word, how could it be unnecessary to a sentence? And how can you write without using “that?”

But my professor told me to do two things when I include a “that” in a sentence: Reread the sentence by leaving out “that.” And if the sentence makes sense without “that,” remove it from the sentence.

Still skeptical, I reread the piece my professor had edited, this time leaving out the “thats.” Sure enough, every sentence in which my teacher had crossed out a “that” still made sense without its “that.”

It was as if my eyes were open to a new dimension. Every time I reread something I wrote, I saw glaring back at me in neon colors unnecessary “thats.”

I still follow the writing advice my professor gave me almost 20 years ago. It’s easy to follow. And by leaving out a “that” I’m able to write sharper, crisper copy for my readers.

Using the That Test

You, too, can follow his guidance about “thats.” Use the That Test. Here’s how:

  1. Read a sentence you wrote that includes a “that.”
  2. If the sentence can still convey its meaning to the reader without including “that,” you can delete the “that.”

Let’s look at an example. This sentence has a “that”: Someone at work said that they liked my hair today.

This sentence does not have a “that”: Someone at work said they liked my hair today.

The sentence still works without the “that,” right? In other words, the reader can understand what the sentence is saying without the “that.” Because of this, the “that” is unnecessary, and we can delete it from this sentence.

The importance of removing ‘thats’

Why should you remove unnecessary that’s from your writing? The main reason is people lose interest while reading.

There’s always something else to read or a social media feed to check. Every nano-second of a reader’s time is an opportunity for that person to move on from your work. The quicker your copy reads, the less likely a reader is to lose interest in your writing.

So, when writing, follow the That Test and remove unnecessary “thats” from your writing. And enjoy having more people read your work from beginning to end.

This article originally appeared on Medium on Oct. 31, 2019.

One Easy Way to Improve How You Start Your Day

One Easy Way to Improve How You Start Your Day

Does this describe your morning?

Woman drinking a cup of coffee while reading a book.

You wake up and pick up your phone. You scroll through the news or Instagram or Twitter.

Sound familiar?

I used to begin my day this way, too. But then I made a change that’s led to more positive, productive mornings.

It’s tempting to pick up our phones first thing in the morning and interact with the outside world.

We’re recognizing that social media is causing unhappiness and anxiety. As Henrik Chulu writes, social media and smartphones “amplify offline stressors as well such as when you witness people you care about go through stressful situations.”

So what can you do instead of ogling over your phone?

A better daily start

Here’s the change I made to my morning routine that’s eased my anxiety and increased my positivity: I started reading poems.

Every day I pour myself a cup of coffee, flick on a lamp, and sit down to read a poem or two or three.

This action allows my mind to wake into a spirit of creativity. While the caffeine in the coffee works into my bloodstream, so does a presence of artistry.

It’s only after downing some poetry that I look at my phone or flip open my laptop. And by then, I have no desire to check social media or read the news.

Instead, I’m ready to write or work on Bidwell Hollow.

The best part of this new routine is that you can do it, too. All you need are poems.

One guiding principle

I recommend one guiding principle. Read poems in physical books or eBooks, not on your phone or computer.

This way, you’re not tempted to flip to a social media app, check sports scores, or read the news. Besides, it’s easy and affordable to get poetry books.

Used books have been some of the best poetry collections I’ve read. I’ve snatched these up at library book sales or estate sales. These books at most cost me a few dollars.

There’s also a large number, at least in the U.S., of university and Indie presses that publish poetry. These books generally cost between $10-$17.

Or, check a lending library in your neighborhood to see if it has poetry books. At the very least, ask a bookish friend if they have a book of poems you can borrow.

Go forth and read

What if you’ve never before read poetry? Or, what if the poems you read confuse or don’t make sense to you?

That’s OK. Exposure to writing outside our comfort zone or to what we don’t understand can be fruitful.

Some of my most artistic mornings have come after reading a poem I didn’t get because doing so put me in a frame of mind of possibilities.

After all, isn’t art about what can be out of nothing?

So, find a book of poems. Bring it home. Begin reading it tomorrow morning.

And enjoy a more fulfilling start to your day.

This article originally appeared on Medium on Sep. 11, 2019.

Chanda Feldman Produces Poetry On Ancestors and Achievement

Chanda Feldman starts Approaching the Fields with a poem containing the line, “Forget the dead stay down, they persist as haints.”

Approaching the Fields by Chanda Feldman lying on a wooden table

Feldman’s ancestors are the focus of this poetry collection, published in 2018 by Louisiana State University Press. The book documents their lives and legacies.

But Approaching the Fields is not merely an artist’s reflective look on those who came before her. It also explores the systemic oppression forced upon African Americans.

Chanda Feldman Portrays Persecution

Feldman’s poetry in this collection delivers binary value. They share her familial tales. And, in so doing, also portray the injustices faced by black Americans in the South.

The poet doesn’t highlight the abuse of African Americans in her poems. Instead, the persecution plays in the background, a soundtrack throughout the collection.

An example of this is Feldman’s poem, “Election Day.” In it, she portrays African American sharecroppers on Election Day.

The poem’s beginnings portray a celebratory mood at an outdoor barbecue. But then in the final stanza comes the lines:
The men, one by one, signed for their ballots.
The man you sharecropped for chose your say.

We read in history books that after 1870, African American men in the U.S. could vote. What we don’t understand is that even still, many of those men couldn’t vote for whom they chose.

It’s this blunt yet subtle sharing of the black American experience in the Southern United States that makes Approaching the Fields so masterful.

A Tale of Achievement

Chanda Feldman breaks Approaching the Fields into four parts.

The first part explores the author’s ancestral past. The second part focuses on her childhood, and on how her parents went from sharecropper’s kids to college students.

The book’s third part reflects her parents’ experience growing up in the segregated South. And the fourth part contains one poem, a piece that ties what we’ve read into a worthy recessional.

With her poems, Feldman penned songs for passing down through the ages. Her writing is crisp, clear, and enthralling. The pieces contain twists and turns of phrase that keep you reading one line to the next.

The collection illuminates the oppression faced by black Americans. Still, Feldman’s approach is not to preach. Instead, she informs through storytelling.

And Feldman does so without airing grievances, though there are many she could state. Yes, the stories are about a persecuted people in a place that excels at torturing them.

But in the end, Approaching the Fields is a celebration of achievement and progress in the face of traditional barriers. It’s the story of a sharecropper’s granddaughter knowing, appreciating, and documenting that from which she came.

Disclaimer: Louisiana State University Press provided me with a complimentary copy of Approaching the Fields. I was not required to write a review, be it positive or negative. The opinions expressed here are my own. And I have not received any compensation for writing this post.

This is Probably the Most Personally Touching Poetry I’ve Read in a While

Jim Whiteside came to my attention via Twitter, though I don’t remember the details.

Maybe a poet I followed retweeted one of his tweets. Or, maybe I saw him mentioned in a tweet. Either way, tweets played a role.Photo of Jim Whiteside's, Writing Your Name On the Glass

And shortly after discovering Whiteside’s Twitter account, I learned a few things:

  • He’s a poet with his first chapbook.
  • He’s gay.
  • The publisher of his chapbook is Bull City Press.

As I’m someone who tries to highlight authors and poets, I reached out to Bull City Press for a copy of Whiteside’s chapbook, Writing Your Name on the Glass.

I’ve been devouring the book’s poems since I first cracked its cover. These are words that speak to me in unique, relatable ways.

Jim Whiteside and Writing Your Name on the Glass

The poems in Writing Your Name on the Glass focus on love, intimacy, and relationships. And, as Whiteside is gay, this means the poems are by a man about being intimate with other men.

Admittedly, my exposure here is limited. Most of the poetry I read is by straight people, or it’s by people who because of the time in which they lived, could not live openly and freely as a gay person.

And so it is from Jim Whiteside these are poems that could easily have been about my experiences as they are about his. After all, we’re both white, gay men with rural American upbringings and are roughly in the same age category.

But it’s a disservice to Whiteside’s poetry to only say that his poetry is excellent because I find him relatable.

There is a crispness to his poems, pieces that simultaneously illuminate and sting. They expose our own concerns of adequateness, of wanting to love and be loved, of alternating moments of joy and pain.

For example, in “Held to the Wall, Driven as a Nail,” Whiteside writes:

“They say the great discovery is that

of the lover’s body, the way they must be
touched, how to love them properly.

But what if it is less discovery
and more command — touch me here,

and here, and here — the body schematic?

These are poems all of us can savor. It’s just that I relish them perhaps a little more because they feel ripped from my experiences.

Jim Whiteside’s Writing Your Name on the Glass is now available through Bull City Press.