“Reading, Writing and Life,” column for Sept. 30, 2014

Recently I had the great, if somewhat terrifying, pleasure to stand before an assembly at Hope Elementary in Hope, Indiana, and speak to the students in grades 2-6 about “Reading, Writing and Life.”

It was a lot to cover in 30 minutes. I’ve been doing those things (reading, writing and being alive) for a pretty long time and can talk about them until the cows come home. But given the risk of cutting into recess, I tried to keep it short.

I started with “Life.” There are three keys in life, I said, that help to open all sorts of doors:

1. Be kind.

2. Be responsible.

3. Believe _ in yourself, in the goodness of others, and most of all, in possibilities.

I told them I grew up telling stories to my brother, who was totally blind and insufferably stubborn, and who made me describe for him things he couldn’t see.┬áI never dreamed, I said, that I’d grow up to earn my living as a writer. But apparently my brother dreamed it for me. And somehow that dream came true.

Next, I offered five “tips” that I’ve found helpful for reading and writing:

1. Learn the rules of writing (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.) and stick to them until you know them so very well you don’t have to think about them and you can just have fun.

2. Write about what you know, the thing you can’t get off your mind. If you want to write about something that you don’t know much about, study it until you know it by heart. Then start writing and learn even more.

3. Write the way you talk, only better. Read your writing aloud. Does it sound like you? If not, rewrite it until it does. The unique part of writing is the voice with which it’s written. Find your voice and use it to make your writing your own.

4. Read and write every day. Readers read. Writers write. Do both. Read your favorite authors. And write something just for fun every day. Reading and writing will help you get to know yourself and the world around you. When my daughter was a little girl, she filled journals with her thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams. Now, as a reading specialist teacher, she sometimes reads those journals to her students. And they love getting to know who she was at their age.

5. Write as if you’re writing to someone who is blind _ someone who has never seen, and never will see, the things you’re writing about, unless you use words that can be understood, not just with the eyes, but with all the senses _ hearing, taste, touch, smell, and most of all, with the heart.

Finally, I said, we read and we write to know and to be known. It works like this:

You take thoughts and feelings from your mind and your heart and occasionally from your soul, and you fashion them into words.

That is called language.

You put the words on paper, or on a computer screen, using lines and circles, marks and symbols, until you trust them to carry your meaning.

That is called writing.

Then someone, who has never seen your face or heard your voice, will see your lines and circles and symbols and marks, and recognize them as words.

That is called reading.

Sometimes, like magic, the words hold the power to recreate the writer’s thoughts and feelings in the mind and heart and maybe even in the soul of the reader.

That is called a miracle.

I believe in that miracle. I see it happen every day. You can see it, too. Just keep reading and writing and believing.

Miracles happen. Dreams come true. Every day. Everywhere. For everyone.

And most surely in a place called Hope.


  1. Lisa Wisniewski says


    I discovered your columns in my local paper about six months ago and find them to be realistic, true to life, refreshing, thoughtful, inspirational, and helpful. Though I have made a living for over 19 years in the engineering field, writing is my true passion and I am currently enrolled in the Master of Professional Writing Program at Chatham University. I found this column to be especially helpful to me in completing an assignment for a grant writing class I am taking this term. Many of your comments echoed or reinforced the textbook used for this class. I shared a link of this column with the class because I thought it might help others as well.

    Much of my writing “career” has been in the creative realm, particularly poems and short stories. In reading this column, I realized I have followed your five reading and writing tips in my quest to become a better writer, reader, learner, and listener. I have also been fortunate to experience a miracle on more than one occasion.

    Thank you for your continued inspiration, guidance, life reflections, wisdom, and willingness to share with others. Thank you in particular for this column, which allowed me to complete a necessary writing assignment and confirmed that I am finally on the right path with my writing and how it fits into my personal and professional goals.

  2. For a while, I was a reading and writing teacher. Then I became a mommy. Then I became a reading and writing teacher again, but my pupils are my own homeschooled children. I’ve spent the last 10 years being mommy and teacher and things had begun to swirl around in my mind so much that I finally had to become a writer, too, or else risk insanity. This year I took the leap of putting those words out there in a column in my local newspaper (a non-paying gig), and it has been so satisfying. Thank you for helping to inspire me.

    • Sharon Randall says

      Jodi, I’m glad you’re a mommy and a teacher and a writer. I’ll bet you’re really good at all three!
      All the best to you and yours,

  3. I’ve followed your columns for some time, but I had to send a comment on this one. I’m a retired engineering manager that began writing only after I retired. I’ve had some success in local publications, with primarily personal essays, but it was a struggle. While struggling, I learned many things about writing, including how powerful it is – and your article today summarized exactly what I learned and how I feel. I wish you would have written it back when I began.
    Engineering was my life’s passion from 18-62. Now, at 72, writing is my new passion, and I appreciate seeing your words express that passion.

  4. Another great article. I always enjoy reading your words and hearing your heart.

  5. Reading your column is just as enjoyable as it was hearing your speak at the Moravian church in Hope, Indiana. I am so glad I got to do both. Thank you.

  6. I was so excited when I found out you would be coming to Hope & Columbus! My plans were to be there early & see if you would autograph an old copy of your book for me. But plans changed when a dear aunt called & said “I need you”… So instead of hearing you speak at our beautiful library, I spent two days at the hospital with an 83 year old lady who needs open heart surgery but is not strong enough to have it. To be honest, in the chaos of her health issues, I even forgot what date it was. I was so disappointed when I realized that I had missed you, but would do the same thing again. That’s what family is all about! I love your writings & even keep a notebook of some of my favorites. Maybe next time…

    • Sharon Randall says

      Sheila, I’m proud of you for doing exactly the right thing. I’ll look forward to meeting you next time. Until then, all the best to you and your dear aunt!

  7. Sharon,

    You’re a great teacher, just like Randy was, just like your kids are, whether through teaching or acting. It’s a fine line to know the difference between those two professions.

    FYI, I was principal at Mt. Hope Elementary for 21 years.



  8. Sharon, my love. As you may recall, I wrote you some years ago as to your relationship to Ann Randall, my first love in Ansonville N.C. Now I have a new love by the name of Sharon Randall. You may tell your husband that he has an 80 year old threat, a former Carolinian living in Evansville, IN. Carolina is still home, and some of your very descriptive articles of our home state brings tears to my eyes. You are a beautiful lady with a beautiful mind that always touches a chord with my own emotions.

    You can tell hubby not to worry, I don’t think I will be coming to Las vegas again, he can gamble on that. Loving regards,
    Mason Flake.

    • Sharon Randall says

      Thank you, Mason, I’ll share your lovely note with my husband. If you change your mind about visiting Vegas, do let me know. I’d love to meet you. All the best to you, my friend!

  9. LOVE THIS! – ESPECIALLY the part about writing!

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