Monday, September 8, 2014

Assistant Director of Development Rhonda K. Miller: “writing…can take a person anywhere”

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?

I’ve been writing faculty profiles for Bucknell’s Web site. I interview new or newly promoted faculty, then write their story on a freelance basis. Sometimes I interview long-term faculty who haven’t had a profile published. These are 300-400 word vignettes that often present challenge since the faculty are extremely accomplished. It forces brevity. For my full-time job, I write campaign proposals, pledge forms, endowment agreements, donor letters and other more technical pieces related to fundraising at Bucknell. Personally, I am reworking a story I filed about three years ago in Robert Rosenberg’s advanced fiction course. I’m rethinking the entire approach, while trying not to overthink it. I hope to publish a version of it someday.

What do you love about it?

I’ve been writing nonfiction professionally for 26 years, and my favorite part is learning about topics that I wouldn’t have picked on my own. One of the first stories I published was about a grocery story that doubled as an opossum museum in an obscure part of Texas. I’ve done news stories on pretty much everything – interviewing a local farmer who grew a 75-pound zucchini to recounting the last days in a 22-year-old’s life prior to his brutal murder. When I worked for the New York Times Magazine Group, I traveled around the country reviewing fancy tennis resorts, and I wrote about the fitness routines of players such as Steffi Graf. I’ve written about tennis equipment, small town government, industrial chemical fires and the benefits of nap rooms for employees. I’ve worked at local newspapers and national magazines – what I love about writing is it can take a person anywhere. Think: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

What about writing drives you nuts?

I usually dread starting, but it’s always worth it.

How would you describe your writing process?

When I worked in the news business, there wasn’t time to ruminate over stories. You went out, got the story, came back, wrote and filed by deadline. I was only concerned about meeting deadline with an accurate account of what I was reporting. I realized years later that I might have missed some flavor – describing local personalities or including more of my own voice instead of just the cold, hard facts. By my own voice, I’m not advocating a writer’s opinion in a news story but rather taking more time with turn of phrase. Now I mentally process stories longer than I used to, meaning I think about them for days, sometimes a week, depending on my deadline. I find that my writing flows better. Then I rewrite.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?

I want to know if the story makes sense to the reader. I want to know if it has accomplished the assigned mission. Other sets of eyes are always good.

What would you like students to know about writing?

Take time to listen for stories – stories are everywhere! Be willing to try all forms of writing: business, creative, journalism, sports. Read. Two of my undergraduate faculty gave me this advice: 1. Take risks; 2. Have a notebook and pen strapped to your person at all times.

Rhonda K . Miller is an Assistant Director of Development in Development & Alumni Relations. She’s written for Tennis Magazine, Human Resource Executive Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, the Norwalk Hour, Fairfield Citizen-News, the Knox Alumnus and Bucknell Magazine, among others.

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