Shelia Gaines reads a selection from her book, “Going Back: Poems by Shelia Gaines.” (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

by Florence M. Howard —

Accounting for nuances, Shelia Gaines knows from experience that “Writing has a process.” She shared that nugget last Friday (Nov. 17) with LeMoyne-Owen College students as she spoke on campus at Hollis F. Price Library in recognition of National Novel Writing Month.

Gaines, who serves as head librarian at the University of Memphis’ McWherter Library, started a blog titled “Finding My Way; Living My Purpose” in 2007. As part of the local observance, Stacey J. Smith, director of Libraries for LeMoyne-Owen College, invited Gaines to speak to LOC students about “how most of her essays or poems stemmed from simple or random observations.”

Smith and Gaines became friends after they met at a Library Conference in 2009.

“She actually has the job I used to have at the Ned McWherter Library-Circulation Department,” said Smith. “We are also part of a small group called LOL (Librarians Out to Lunch.)” The LOL group looks for unique places to go where they can “share, decompress, complain, destress, and always laugh.”

LOC library director Stacey J. Smith thanks guest speaker Shelia Gaines for sharing her stories and writing techniques with participants. Gaines told her audience that the purpose of her blog is to offer encouragement to her readers. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The Tri-State Defender)

The annual observance of National Novel Writing Month was begun in 1999 by the national writers group known as NaNoWriMo. The purpose is to encourage writers to write from November 1 through 31 as part of online and in-person writing groups.

During her talk, Gaines said each individual has a process. Some use outlines, other uses notes. “Work from your own process,” she told her listeners.

“The hardest part for me is to write a beginning, middle and end,” she said before explaining the use of dialects, Southern language or colloquialisms, and code-switching. Born in Mississippi, Gaines said that the vernacular of the South, the dialect, is in everyone raised in the South. For example, “door” becomes “doe.”

She also shared that her mother used the term “fifty-eleven” as in “I told your 50-11 dozen times to stop tormenting that child.” Or the boy who said, “I ain’t got nothing” and then quickly regrouped to say to his grandmother, “I don’t have anything.”

Asked why she writes, Gaines said that it is usually in response to something or in defense of writing. She explained that creative writing is different from academic writing. In fact, she once turned a game of Scrabble into a short story.

A lot of things that “happen with students” are put into her writing, especially humorous incidents involving their processes and emotions.

“Academic writing does not have to be boring,” said Gaines, who has found a way to balance academic writing and creative writing. Her secret is creativity. She also likes to hang onto any “random observations” by keeping a journal. Facts and the figures will tell the story, so “trust the process,” she said.

Guest speaker Shelia Gaines explains her writing and blogging techniques to those attending the NaNoWriMo observance held at Hollis Price Library on Nov. 17. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The Tri-State Defender)

Gaines used the NaNoWriMo session to encourage students to follow their passion regardless of whether it is academic or creative.

During a Q&A, she was asked about publishing, which she said was “alien” to her. She encouraged students to read articles on how to publish your work or look into the University of Memphis journalism class on publishing to get a professional perspective.

She also pitched doing book reviews for journals, citing the Tennessee Libraries Journal (tnla.org) as one such opportunity because it has an open call for articles.

A natural educator with a delightful, positive and refreshing outlook on life, Gaines calls herself “unabashedly Christian and directionally challenged.” On her website, you will find intermittent posts that include a Bible verse, along with her observations about life and living as well as encouragement and prayer.

In telling about herself, she wrote this:

Hello world. Welcome to the blog of a small town Mississippi girl still adjusting to life in the big city. Like many of you, I wear many hats (wife, mother, librarian, writer, to name a few). All of my favorite things combine faith, family and fun.

I have chosen the tag line “finding my way: living my purpose because I am ‘directionally-challenged,’ which is a kind way of saying I do not have a good sense of direction and I get lost easily. However, with the aid of GPS, I have found navigating a little bit easier. I think this is a perfect analogy to our Christian journey in that even those with a good sense of direction need guidance.

I wanted to write a book entitled Directionally Challenged but Travis Collins beat me to it many years ago. It is a great book, by the way, but I digress. I have since begun a book on spiritual direction (with a different title, of course) and you will find a little bit of the introduction to that book in my first post. Please make yourself at home, take a look around and visit often. I hope you will choose to follow me and share with anyone who needs a little encouragement or inspiration to follow the path laid out in Isaiah 30:21.

 (Visit Shelia Gaines’ blog, Finding My Way; Living My Purpose, at http://sheliagaines.com.)