Syndicated Columnist Shows How to Live Like It is to the Fullest
Lisa Sugarman is a syndicated columnist and the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is, the Boston Globe’s Local Bestselling collection of Sugarman’s favorite columns from her early years with GateHouse. She’s a celebrity in her own right.
“It Is What It Is” was originated in the Marblehead Reporter in 2009, but can now be found on over 400 GateHouse Media websites and in select GateHouse newspapers around the country. GateHouse serves 79 daily papers, 257 weeklies, and 405 websites coast to coast.
Her column is inspiring and motivational. Written in a conversational tone, her column captures the essence of life in bits to savor. She writes about how running is so similar to parenting and that we all must be Amish once in a while to replenish our spirit. She writes about overlooked little things, so we can live a meaningful life.
Readers can easily relate to her and absorb her wisdom. Like this one about running on the ice, the snow, the rain, the heat, and everything in between, “I’m just doing it to improve the quality of my days. Because whenever we’re pushed, we usually respond by pushing back. And I think pushing back is exactly what helps us to keep moving forward.”
Lisa’s works show how amazing looking at certain things from a different angle is. And every little thing in life is a source of inspiration.
An interview with this amazing columnist below. She shares about life, writing, and how she turned into a syndicated columnist.
How did you start writing? How early in life? What did you write as an amateur?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. From the time I was about five or six I remember pretending I was a newspaper reporter. I carried around a spiral notebook everywhere I went looking for stories all over the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I resorted to making stuff up because we lived in a pretty quiet town.
I was an English major in college but really had no idea what kind of writing I wanted to do until my creative writing professor suggested I check out our school newspaper. So I did. My first piece was a feature story about personal gaming systems (which I knew zero about) but I was hooked. I became the news editor the following year and the editor of the paper the year after.
From there, I got an internship at my hometown paper The Marblehead Reporter, where, ironically, I started writing my opinion column almost 20 years later. Then, after I graduated, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a Boston-area newspaper chain, then for a healthcare book publisher doing their marketing & PR. After a handful of years doing that, my husband and I started a family and I put my writing on hold to raise our daughters. Once my kids were older, like school-age, I randomly submitted a feature story to our local paper. Just wanted to start writing again.
People liked it and the editor asked me to submit more. So I did, but with no real guidelines or deadlines. It was super loose. I wrote whatever was on my mind. And I did that for about a year until my editor decided he wanted to make it a more regular feature. People were giving him great feedback and wanted to see more so he asked me to brand the column with a name. That’s how my “It Is What It Is” column was born.
What was the “lightbulb moment” that triggered you to write professionally?
I guess my lightbulb moment came when people reading my column started reaching out to me saying how much they related to everything I was writing about. So many different people from all over the place said it felt like I was talking directly to them every week, like I was in their heads. And that was a huge compliment. Very humbling. To know that I was comforting someone or giving them license to laugh at themselves was hugely gratifying. I kind of got addicted to it and that just motivated me to keep writing.
I love your approach in life, which is clear from what you said, “We’re supposed to screw up, make bad decisions, and lose our way. Because the reality is, life isn’t perfect…it’s messy, chaotic, and sometimes downright mean. But it’s also joyous, fulfilling, and endlessly surprising. We just have to remember that it’s a work in progress.”
What lessons from experience(s) that made you write that statement?
Just life, really. I’ve always paid really close attention to what’s going on around me–what people are saying and doing and how they’re acting. I’ve always loved observing people and I guess that always just made me hyper aware that all of our lives are so similar.
I write about life’s imperfections because that’s the true life we’re all living…especially those of us with kids. I screw up constantly, in spite of my best efforts to get everything right. And people relate to that. So I keep writing about it.
How did you turn yourself from a “regular” columnist to a syndicated columnist?
About two years ago, I took my husband Dave’s suggestion and actually reached out to the VP of the newspaper chain that I’d been writing for all these years. He thought it was time I tried to go national. So I drafted an email introducing myself and my column and explained how I had grown my readership over the years in my region and how my writing was universal enough to go all over the country in all of his papers.
Almost immediately, he forwarded my email to another GM who reached out to me to schedule a call to talk. We talked the next week. I pitched her my column and she liked the pitch and the relatability of my writing enough that she agreed to try it out nationally. And here we are.
Also, I guess what made me unique, which is what my newspaper publisher liked, was that I’m just an average soccer mom writing about the day-to-day stuff everyone is going through, but I do it in a funny, honest way that people can relate to and connect with and be inspired by.
If a writer wants to self-syndicate her column, what would be the best ways to approach it?
I don’t think there’s a way to self-syndicate. Not in the same way that people are self-publishing books. Getting pulled to a newspaper chain as a regular columnist is an unusual happening. I’d say the best advice I have is to constantly put yourself out there. Be reaching out to editors and publishers and websites with your work and build the hell out of your brand. Leverage social media as much as you can because that’s the quickest way to build your readership. Then it’s about networking and timing and a bunch of grit, because it doesn’t happen without getting yourself out there.
You’re writing a series of books about raising perfectly imperfect kids. Are they based on your own experiences? What did you learn from your parents, partner (husband) and peers (fellow parents) that inspired you to write the series?
Oh yeah! My book series, How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids (And be ok with it.), is absolutely based on my experience as a mom of two daughters (16 and 19) and from almost thirteen years working in the school system in my hometown. I talk about my own screw ups (and theirs) throughout the series, drawing on all the stuff we’ve gone through as a family as examples for the books.
My parents had a beautiful marriage. They were always laughing and affectionate, both with each other and with me, and incredibly hard working and supportive. But they also gave me the flexibility to screw up as a kid so I’d know what it felt like. I loved them for that. Because as hard as it is for parents to watch our kids fall, it’s incredibly necessary and hugely beneficial to our kids in the long run.
My husband Dave and I have been together since we were seventeen and we’ve got the same values and philosophy about life, so we’ve always been in sync when it comes to raising our girls. His parents were a lot like my own–very hardworking, honest, down-to-earth, and devoted to their kids. So we both more or less came from the same place when it came to raising our own family.
Please give several anecdotes that changed your way of thinking as a person, a writer, and a parent.
I’m an only child and my dad passed away when I was ten. I was a daddy’s girl so it shattered me. My mom kept our little family together and did everything in her power to compensate for his not being there. She was amazing. To this day, I still don’t know how she kept all those balls in the air without dropping any. I never lacked for anything in terms of love or support or a playmate or a consigliere.
All of my drive and strength and perspective as a parent comes from her. She taught me that, in life, you’re dealt the hand you’re dealt…but how you play that hand is entirely up to you. That’s why I’ve always tried to live big and go for whatever it is that I’ve got my mind set on, both personally and professionally. Because how I go after things is completely in my control, when so much else about our lives is out of our hands.
I love motivational sayings and cliches. They’re corny but poignant. And since I was a kid, I’ve especially loved fortunes from fortune cookies. I collect them. In fact, we have an entire cabinet door covered with them in our kitchen. But the one I keep with me in my wallet wherever I go is the one that reads Do not wait for others to open the right doors for you. And I never have.
Any tips you see appropriate for parents and aspiring columnists.
To all parents: What we do every day is a labor of love. We’re never going to be perfect and neither are our kids. But the sooner we embrace the idea that we just need to give our best effort, the sooner we unlock our full potential and become the best version of ourselves.
And to aspiring columnists: Stay true to your own voice and let as many people hear it as you can. It’s a big world and there’s plenty of room for everyone; you just need to write your brains out and go after your spot. The opportunities are there, you just need to make them happen.
This article was first published on SiliconValleyGlobe.com.