Saturday Success Story #14: Suzette Martinez Standring

When I sent an email to Suzette asking her if I could feature her on this site, I was hoping she would say “yes”. I’ve read many of her articles published in local newspapers such as The Milton Times and The Patriot Ledger as well as in the Boston Globe (the most recent one was about her basement renovation of her Milton, MA house) and I have always wanted to connect with her for two reasons: she is Filipino and she is also petite! Though I’ve never met her, I feel as though I have gotten to know her already based from all the columns she’s published!

That is why on the day that I received her reply, I was so ecstatic – I almost fell out of my seat! Having a professional writer grace this site is more than an honor. It’s a dream come true!

Suzette’s bio is absolutely, positively, ridiculously impressive! (You can check her complete bio here) Needless to say, I admire her for the many achievements she’s received as a writer, producer, TV show host and a published author. However, what really draws me to her is the idea that petite women (like her) can be powerful and influential. As a petite woman, she has proven that many times as the President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and for being an award-winning author! She is currently working on her book about petite women and I can not wait to get my hands on that!

Our Saturday Success Story, Ms. Suzette Martinez Standring is an award-winning columnist, author, speaker, producer, TV show host and most importantly she is  ”petite”. She is syndicated with GateHouse News Service for her spirituality and humor columns. She is the award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing.  She hosts and produces It’s All Write With Suzette, a half-hour TV show about writing, and she presents writing workshops nationally. Visit her website and read her archived columns at http://www.readsuzette.com.

This is her story:

 AMS: Tell us about yourself. Your education, training and where you are currently involved in.

Suzette: Both my parents were born in the Philippines and became U.S. citizens. I was born and raised in San Francisco and went to Cathedral High School, a Catholic school for girls (at that time).  I never went to college because my father, in 1972, said, “I’m not paying for any more tuition.  You’ll only end up getting married.” That was how it was back in the day.  I was so jealous of my college friends that I embarked on my own self-study of literature.  I read the works of Herman Melville, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, any author I thought my friends might be reading. I loved the written word way back then. I made the most of my typing skills (100 wpm) and worked as a legal secretary and later became the executive director of a 1500 member legal association.  When I moved to the East Coast in 1996, I took up professional writing for the first time and landed a job as a county news reporter, with no previous journalism experience. That began at an adult ed journalism course I took out of curiosity. The instructor was the managing editor of a large regional newspaper.  After six weeks, he said I had “natural talent,” and offered me a job.

It was tough, frightening, but exhilarating. I discovered a passion for writing and an ability to make deadlines. Being a news reporter gave me a license to be nosy, which was so much fun.  From there, I added writing a humor column to my newsroom duties.

When I moved to Massachusetts (Milton) in 1999, I tried my hand at freelance writing.  I joined the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and met award-winning writers. I later became president of the NSNC.  I applied what I learned from great columnists.  Since 2008 I’ve written a twice-monthly spirituality column that appear in The Patriot Ledger, as well as humor columns, all syndicated nationally through GateHouse News Service.

All the great advice that propelled my own career forward caused me to write a book, “The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists.” It’s about writing advice from over 50 celebrity newspaper columnists, and has won awards and is used in journalism courses nationally.

I also produce and host a TV show about writing, “It’s All Write With Suzette,” where I feature guest columnists and authors and we talk about the process and craft of writing as it applies to their particular genres.  It airs on Milton (MA) Cable TV Access every week, but episodes are available on www.vimeo.com and on my website, www.readsuzette.com for viewing.

AMS: Growing up did you always dream of becoming a writer?

Suzette: No, although I was a prolific note-passer in school, typically during math and science classes.  I did love to write long, funny letters (in the pre-email days) to my friends.  But I never wrote stories or non-fiction until that fateful day when I took an adult ed class in “journalism” and the writing ball got rolling in the newspaper field.  Prior to that I was involved in association management and event planning. I was ready for a change!

I’ve discovered an equal passion for helping others to find their own writing voice.  I love teaching writing workshops, which I give nationally at schools and conferences.  To help a terrified aspiring writer toward publication is so gratifying.

Now I’ve got a new project:  I offer private writing workshops for groups.  It can be a one-time workshop in someone’s home on some aspect of writing.  Or I can give ongoing sessions where I can help with direction, guidance, feedback and writing advice on various projects.  It’s not necessary for everyone to be working on the same type of thing.  Good writing advice applies to all genres.

But when I was younger, I never dreamed I’d become a writer or a teacher.

AMS: You are a celebrated writer for your religion and humor columns as well as an award-winning author, could you please share to us how do you do it all?

Suzette: Well, as I say in my book, The Art of Column Writing, people often think inspiration comes through a magic zap to the brain.  Actually, it starts on the other end – velcro your butt to the chair.  Sit down and write at a set time every day. Show up even if you feel you have nothing to say.  After a while, a daily habit will train your mind to perform for the period that you have set aside to write, whether it’s for 20 minutes or four hours.

I set a schedule.  My best time for creativity is early morning until about noon.  I have a to-do list ready so I don’t spend time scratching my head, “What am I supposed to do next?”  I do all my writing projects in dribs and drabs because I need variety, have a short attention span, and I don’t like the pressure of completing a piece in just one day.  For example, on day one, I do my first (lousy) draft.  I tweak it the next day or maybe I do research.  I finish up later in the week.

I love writing conferences.  I meet other writers and learn from them, and it’s how I’ve been able to network for guests on my TV show.

I stick to a to-do list every day.  You can’t believe the amount of time one can waste wondering, “Now what was I supposed to do today?”

AMS: I read a review of your latest book, “The Height of Power” (although I have yet to read the collection of essays) that this book started because of a comment made by a flight attendant towards you. Could you tell us how did this book start and how did you gather of these powerful yet petite women?

 

Suzette: It hasn’t been published yet. My book about petite woman is now entitled:  Have Stepstool Will Travel: Petite Women Speak of Stature. I’m still working toward publication. The idea began as an essay that won first place in a writing competition sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. By then I was working on a book project. The Boston Globe wrote a column about my book idea and my competition win.

I had a New York agent pitch it to various publishers. The good news is that they thought my book about petite women successfully navigating the world at armpit level was unique.  The down side was they are unsure of the market.  I’m compiling the essays and it will be published soon, perhaps digitally.  It’s a brave new world and how I hate learning new technology!

I think the petite demographic is tremendous and I’ve already collected amazing essays from successful women, include Chloe Dao, the 2005 winner of Project Runway and Miami University president Donna Shalala, who is the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Clinton administration.

I’m 4’10” by the way.  Roar!

AMS: A lot of Filipino women are petite yet they can be “powerful” in many ways possible, what is your advise to petite women in the corporate/career world? How can they strengthen their “power” or their influence even more?

Suzette: Confidence and good will always makes one appear bigger.  Become the go-to person in your field, become the resource or expert others turn to for help.  In putting together my book about petite women, it was so encouraging to read hilarious, poignant and inspiring stories about overcoming negative presumptions due to our height. Successful petite women refuse to be defined by others.

AMS: Let us get a little more personal. At this point in your life, what are some of your greatest achievements?

 

Suzette: With age comes wisdom.  At 57, I’m very grateful and proud of my happy marriage with David Standring.  I feel my daughter, Star Baylon, is my crowning achievement, especially now that I see that she and her husband Joe are terrific parents to Bella (6) and Lulu (3).

Next I’m so proud of having written The Art of Column Writing that is used in journalism schools.  Also, it was an honor to serve as the president for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.  That I’ve been able to help others get published, to reach for their writing dreams, is the best of all.

AMS: In reaching for these achievements, who helped you? Did you have any mentor or somebody who inspired you to become who you are now? Who are/were your motivators?

Suzette: I work on maintaining a deep relationship with God.  My faith has helped me to overcome insecurities in my career.  It’s no longer about my ego or achievements.  Making the most of one’s talent is an act of worship. It’s about discovering my purpose in life, and I believe that helping others find their writing voice is important.  I just do my bit and if it fits the grand scheme of things, God will knock down the doors.

And he has by allowing mentors, teachers, colleagues and helpful friends to “pop up” in my life just when I needed them most.

AMS: If, you were to tell us what are the most important skills that you need in order to be successful (in general) in life- what are they?

Suzette: A sense of humor! Curiosity. Resourcefulness. A willingness to go beyond the job description. An open heart. A passion to improve one’s craft.  The humility to learn from others and to accept criticism gracefully.  To let go when the time comes.

Also, if you love to write, attend writing conferences. There is no substitute for meeting people face to face for creating a friendship.

AMS: How about in your field? How can aspiring writers and producers become more successful? Can you share some of your tips?

Suzette: I once read a saying, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”  Stay curious.  True networking is about creating real friendships.  Try to overcome your insecurities about approaching “accomplished” people.  Often they want to help you, too.

When I wrote The Art of Column Writing, I was terrified of calling people like Dave Barry.  After all, who am I and why would he even answer my call?  But I kept telling myself that I’m asking questions on behalf of other people who don’t have the same access.

I overcame my insecurities by thinking of what a service it would be to others. So often we’re willing to make efforts for others, but not for ourselves.  So use that trait to advantage.  Figure out how your project is of service to others.

AMS: What are your next goals? for your family and for your professional growth?

Suzette: Well, I’m on the hound dog trail to learn how to publish books digitally, which is a fast growing trend in publication.  This baptism by fire, I tell you, but I have a lot of advice from colleagues.  I would like to grow professionally by writing a novel.  I’ve always done non-fiction, so that would be a creative challenge for me.

AMS: Finally, what is your definition of success?

Suzette: On a professional level, being in place where people seek my advice on writing is both humbling and gratifying. To be at a stage where I can help people break through their insecurities to explore their own creativity is a blessing.

On a personal level, success is feeling contentment.  Nothing is guaranteed, but I feel a serenity I never had when I was younger.

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