In her own words, Harriet Weil Hodgson ’57 describes how her experience at Wheelock College helped her transition from teacher to writer:
After I graduated from Wheelock, I taught for a dozen years, four as a kindergarten teacher and eight as a preschool teacher. I loved every day in the classroom. I submitted articles to teaching magazines and was thrilled when they were published. During my last teaching job I designed a series of toys and games from throw-away materials. The students tested the toys and games, and the best ideas became my first published book.
To my surprise, the publisher asked me to appear at “New York Is Book Country,” a festival in the heart of New York City. I flew to New York and was escorted to a booth in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While I was demonstrating toys and games, a man pushed through the crowd, and began, “Years ago, in Germany, there was a man who invented kindergarten. … ”
“Froebel,” I interrupted.
“You know Froebel?” he said in a surprised voice.
“Yes,” I answered, thinking of Wheelock’s wonderful Froebel frieze.
People keep asking me how I transitioned from teaching to writing. The transition was easy, thanks to Wheelock, yet it took more time than anticipated, required new learning, and plain persistence. How did my Wheelock education prepare me for this career change?
At Wheelock I received excellent training in planning units. Today, units are called learning modules, but the basic principles are the same, starting with goals and objectives. I’m a health and wellness writer, and my goal is to connect the dots between research and real life. For example, the purpose of my book The Family Caregiver’s Guide is to make life easier for caregivers. If I can’t summarize the purpose of the book in one sentence, I rethink the project.
Outlining a book can take months. While I’m working on the outline I search for possible cover photos, relying on my art minor at Wheelock, and my M.A. in Art Education from the University of Minnesota. My publisher subscribes to an online, royalty-free photo service. I log in to the website and look for potential cover photos. Finding the right one takes so many hours that I develop eye strain. In fact, I looked at more than 2,000 photos before choosing the mosaic cover for my first caregiving book.
When I was at Wheelock I served as co-editor of “The Key,” the college literary magazine. Writing for the magazine had an impact on me. As my skills developed, I realized that simple words had power. Surprisingly, long book titles work better for the Internet. People are in a hurry and want information in seconds. Long titles provide this information and that’s why my books have explanatory subtitles.
The value of review is something I also learned at Wheelock, so I include a summary at the end of each chapter. In one book I call the summary “Smart Steps.” In another book I call it “What Works.” I add headings to help readers find their way and follow my logic trail. WriteLife, my current publisher, believes in summaries so much that in one of my books it listed the summary pages at the beginning of the chapters.
My Wheelock education helped me most in 2007, when our elder daughter, mother of our twin grandchildren, died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Two days later my father-in-law succumbed to pneumonia. Eight weeks after his death, my brother, and only sibling, died of a heart attack. In the fall my former son-in-law died from the injuries he received in another car crash. His death made my grandchildren orphans and my husband and me their guardians.
Immediately Wheelock’s philosophy of respecting the child came to mind. It didn’t matter that my twin grandchildren were 15 years old when they moved in with us. I vowed to respect them, their intelligence, talents, goals, and grief. One week after my daughter died, I sat down at the computer and poured out my soul in words. These entries grew into eight grief resources. I also wrote a book about raising grandchildren and, in the preface, thank Wheelock for the child development training I received.
Respect came to mind again in 2013 when my husband’s aorta dissected. He was bleeding to death, and surgeons operated on him three times in a desperate attempt to save his life. During the last operation he suffered a spinal stroke that paralyzed his legs. After being hospitalized for eight months, my husband was dismissed to my care. Just as I’d done before, I sat down at the computer and started writing about being a family caregiver. This decision led to a series of four books.
Whether it’s respecting the child, reviewing information, writing “grabber” titles, choosing cover photos, or planning books, I’ve benefited greatly from my Wheelock education. I’m 81 years old now, chugging along with my writing career. I’m spreading the word about my books, writing for three websites, posting articles on my website blog, and speaking to community groups about grief, caregiving, compassion fatigue, and personal happiness. On my handwritten application to the College I said each of us has the ability to create our own happiness. I still believe this.
Thank you, Wheelock College, for standing by my side all these years.
Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for 37 years and is the author of thousands of print and Internet articles and 35 books. Her recent releases: Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss, The Family Caregiver’s Guide, Affirmations for Family Caregivers, A Journal for Family Caregivers, and The Family Caregiver’s Cookbook. For more information about this busy author, grandmother and caregiver, visit www.harriethodgson.com.