Posted by: Katie | May 3, 2012

Passion for Writing

Cindy’s Blog

I first met Cindy Scott Traeger in a creative writing class in high school. Her writing skills were obvious and I always looked forward to hearing her share ideas or proof-reading her work. In a world where younger generations are addicted to the computer or videogames, one of Cindy’s greatest interests is in reading books. As I told her, I wish more people would read as much as she does; it seems like technology is unfortunately causing more reliance on items like the Kindle or the Nook. Success has come her way (she was an intern at the National Geographic headquarters) and I hope Cindy continues to have a successful career.

1. How did your interest in writing begin? What are the best tips you’ve been given?
Nobody can really have an interest in writing without an interest in reading. My mom read to me pretty constantly when I was small, probably starting when I was an infant, a mere handful of weeks old!

I’m an only child and my father, who was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, was sent to fly in the Middle East shortly after I was born, to take part in the Gulf War. So my mom was often alone with me and she read to me all the time, propping me up on her lap while reading to me before I could even sit up myself, so I got a feel for how pages were meant to be turned. She also talked to me a lot while my father was gone, and she probably spoke to me like she would have to any adult that might have been in the room at the time – maybe even more frequently – just talking about the day, talking about things.

As a result, I began soaking up the English language like a sponge. And I began to really, really like words. The bigger the better. I collected them, I think, the way some kids collect Happy Meal toys or Pokemon cards (as it happens, I collected those later, too, but words were always my favorite). So, I think the best tip I’ve been given with regard to writing and the best tip I could offer to anyone else is simply this: read! Reading constantly and reading everything (from novels to nonfiction to magazines, blogs and beyond) is the only thing that will allow you to determine what sort of style and tone you like best. It will also allow you to collect words for the very powerful arsenal that is your vocabulary! I have an English degree and am on my way to graduate school, and I still run across at least one or two words every week with which I am not immediately familiar, and then I head over to Dictionary.com (or the OED if my interest is really piqued). If the things you are reading are not constantly forcing you to expand your vocabulary, you aren’t reading the right things!

2. What challenges do you encounter while writing and how do you work through them?

By far my biggest challenge is making the time for myself to write – carving out specific hours on specific days and really forcing myself to get down to it. I think a bit of scheduling is necessary for any writer, but it is so hard to stick to sometimes. I currently hold a part-time job (that I have held since I was an undergrad) and I’m getting ready to start graduate school in the fall. Plus, I am the wife of an Army officer (which is certainly not a dull undertaking), and my husband and I love to travel when we have free time! So, I always feel torn in a million directions. But then, don’t we all?

The way I work through this challenge is by reminding myself now and then that if writing is really as important to me as I claim it is, I simply must find a way to make time for it. No excuses. Some days, I just need to clear the schedule and turn down the invitations and sit at home at my desk, even if the sun is shining or the road is calling. I try to think of my relationship with writing as being not too dissimilar from the relationships I have with my family members. I would always make time for them if they really needed me. So I must make time when my writing needs attention.

It’s also good to set goals, I think. I would like to submit something to an online literary magazine within the next several years, so I am trying to focus on that and make sure I don’t let myself wimp out. I’m telling you all this now so you hold me to it! It’s so easy to tell yourself something is never good enough or never ready. At some point, you have to let it go.

3. What writers are your biggest inspiration and why?

I always hate questions like this because I can never narrow it down and I just drone on for an age. Honestly, I feel like every human being is an utterly unique, walking, talking lexicon that is made up of the sum total of everything he or she has ever heard or read. So everything, from the cereal box you read when you were six to the Victorian novel you read in college to the furniture catalog you read yesterday, has probably inspired you more than you can ever know.

That said, I can pick out the obvious folks – where fiction is concerned, the Brontes and Fitzgerald and Austen and Dickens and Wilde and Tolkien definitely shaped my adolescent imagination more than most. And Thomas Wolfe I will always admire for his courageousness in being so blatantly autobiographic in his fiction. There is something really grand in the way he talks about the everyday. He has a way of framing even the fairly mundane occurrences of his life as if they form a grand epic (and aren’t all of our lives grand epics, to us anyway?). Every little triumph and small slight is elevated and treated with style and grace and passion, and I love and admire that. I wish I had half the guts he did.

Bill Bryson is an absolute favorite of mine when it comes to contemporary travel writing, and witty observations of people and places, generally. He is so smart, full of offbeat historical facts and trivia. But he goes beyond mere description and details and makes you feel like you’ve really been places and seen them, and even better – seen through them. His “Notes from a Small Island” is a testament to the fact that an American can really capture Britain and the British quite beautifully. Who knew? But then, I’ve always felt places are best appreciated by those outsiders who are from someplace else entirely, but choose to make the subject their home. I’d take the foreign aficionado’s perspective over that of the born local’s any day! Being a bit of an outsider allows you to best cherish a place’s quirks. Eccentricity is hard to spot (and harder still to admit to) from the inside. Hence Bryson, born in Des Moines, Iowa, has crafted some of the most popular, joyful and insightful books ever written about Great Britain, Australia and Western Europe. He celebrates these fascinating regions in the way that only a curious, baffled outsider can. I aspire to write some fiction set in Britain one day, and I hope I can capture it half as well as he does.

 4. What are some of your favorite books?
Straight away, I can recommend almost everything written by the fine folks I’ve just mentioned above. I do not have a book that is my absolute, unconditional favorite. I think books strike us differently and carry different meaning for us at different stages of our lives and our enjoyment and appreciation of them is heavily dependent on our experiences and our moods.

I’m really enjoying modern treatments of 19th century settings right now for some reason. Maybe Freud would say something about that. Maybe I have tension between my past and present? I don’t know, I just roll with it. I recently re-read Stoppard’s “Arcadia” (which brings me to another point: pick up plays and read them once in a while – I love doing that – performances, after all, omit the stage directions and we all know how insightful those can be). And I am loving John Fowles’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” at the moment. Once I’m done with that, I’m going to pick up Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” which my husband has been begging me to read forever. So I’m going to go straight from Victorian times to science fiction. I think any book and any genre can be your “favorite” at a given time. Be eclectic and read whatever strikes you – don’t question why.

5. Can you explain what you did as a National Geographic intern? How did the experience improve your skills for the future?
I loved my internships at National Geographic! I use the plural because I held two at once. In the mornings, I would work on Traveler magazine’s web site and write pieces for their travel blog and Free Cities series. In the afternoons, I would go upstairs and serve as a marketing intern for National Geographic Books, the society’s publishing arm.  

I loved my internships at National Geographic! I use the plural because I held two at once. In the mornings, I would work on Traveler magazine’s web site and write pieces for their travel blog and Free Cities series. In the afternoons, I would go upstairs and serve as a marketing intern for National Geographic Books, the society’s publishing arm.

One really great thing I did while I was there that helped shape the career direction I’m moving in now was earn a research certification from the National Geographic Library, a really neat area of the headquarters that the public does not get to see. They offer the training to all interns and I just sort of decided to do it off the cuff, not really knowing what to expect. Their extensive collection of not just publications – but maps and records and other really interesting information and documents – turned me on to the idea of digital curation and archiving as a potential future career.

I just found out this spring that I was accepted by the University of Washington into their Master of Library and Information Science program, and in retrospect, I think that training I did at Nat Geo really gave me a push in that direction.

Some of Cindy’s work while interning:
Free Things to Do in St. Louis
North Carolina Barbeque Trail – The Extra Mile
World Cup 2010: Spain v. Chile

 6.  You obviously love spending time North Carolina. What are some of the joys that North Carolina brings you? Are there any places you recommend people to visit?

As a military child, I am a bit of a citizen of the world, as it happens. There is nothing I dread more than the question “where are you from?” I was actually born in Georgia and lived there for a couple of years. Then I was on the border between Illinois and Missouri, near St. Louis. I’ve lived in about five different places in Florida, all along the gulf coast. Then, I attended the University of Connecticut for a year before eventually transferring to UNC. I lived in D.C. briefly while working for Nat Geo. And right now, of course, I’m in the other Washington – the state – just south of Seattle. Then there’s England, where I lived briefly in 2009. And to be honest, I feel more at home there than just about anyplace else. Have I entirely confused you yet?

If you’re still with me though, I will gladly tell you why I chose to live in North Carolina once and why I would not hesitate to live there again. It’s got a bit of everything! If you want to go to the beach, you can do that – there is mile after glorious mile of gorgeous Atlantic coast. If you want to go to the mountains, you’ve got the Blue Ridge on the other side of the state. And there is everything imaginable in between.

You can eat European cuisine while discussing fine art with a liberal academic in Chapel Hill, then drive about 20 miles to the southwest and find a farm worker who lives in a trailer and can’t read. North Carolina is a perfect microcosm of America, with its diverse people and geography, so it would be a fabulous place for a foreigner to visit. And it is a fabulous place to live. It never gets old, so to speak. There is always another side of it you can seek out. The stereotypical “Old South” is there, with all the drawbacks and charms you might expect from that. But there is also an influx of new faces and new ideas from all over the world. It is where the past is meeting the present in this country in a lot of ways, and it will never cease to amaze and amuse you.

North Carolina Beach
©Cindy Scott Traeger

7. Do you currently have a job in the field of writing? What do you hope for in the future?
Right now, I still work remotely part-time for the University of North Carolina, continuing a job I did while I was an undergrad there, though I have some expanded duties and a bit more pay now. I manage the web site for the university’s international affairs office (http://global.unc.edu/) and so I get to read press releases and post articles about things that folks in our university community are doing around the world every day.

And, as I mentioned previously, I will begin graduate school in the fall. While I intend to keep managing online content and begin working with digital archives once (and while) I earn my MLIS, I do hope to write more in the future.

And I hope that working in libraries will inspire me to keep at it. To me, being in a library is a bit like being in a karaoke bar where everyone around you is singing and being really amusing and you think (possibly after a few drinks) – hey, why can’t I do that, too? When I am surrounded by really good writing, and reading really good writing, it empowers me to write, too. It makes me want to add my voice to the greatest conversations of all time. I hope that someday I will.

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