A super simple yoga sequence for relieving workplace discomfort

One of the beautiful things about my job is the freedom to work from home. But I’ll be honest: When I choose that option, I don’t exactly optimize it ergonomically. I’m usually sitting on my couch or in an arm chair, bent over a laptop. My head droops to meet my computer screen, and my shoulders roll forward.

I know better.

A few minutes of yoga can bring my attention back to my posture while working out some of the kinks created by this setup. During a writing frenzy Friday, I stepped away from the computer and onto my mat for a few minutes to address those very issues. This super simple sequence takes three to four minutes and offers significant relief.

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Not only is ‘Birmingham Beer’ available for preorder …

No, that's not an actual copy ... but it's a pretty darn good replica, don't you think? Alabama Booksmith owner Jake Reiss called me into the shop for a sneak peek after he printed the hardcover jacket and wrapped it around a similarly sized book. I'll admit, I loved seeing my photo and bio on the back inside flap.

No, that’s not an actual copy … but it’s a pretty darn good replica, don’t you think? Alabama Booksmith owner Jake Reiss called me into the shop for a sneak peek after he printed the hardcover jacket and wrapped it around a similarly sized book. I’ll admit, I loved seeing my photo and bio on the back inside flap.

… it’s available in hardback!

Alabama Booksmith will offer an exclusive, limited-edition hardcover book when “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” debuts this summer. The hardback will be $27.99, and is available for preorder now.

If paperback’s your preference, opportunities abound. That edition will be widely available, including preorders from Church Street Coffee and Books and Little Professor Book Center, both here in Birmingham. The paperback edition is $21.99, and both editions are set for release July 27.

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The cover of ‘Birmingham Beer,’ revealed

First, the big stuff:

Birmingham Beer

And now, the rest of the story.

Here’s something you may not know about book covers, unless you’ve written one: Unless he or she is self publishing, the author may not have much say in a book’s appearance.

And in most ways, that’s been my experience. My publisher asks authors to submit potential cover photos when sending interior photos. But from there, it’s in the design team’s hands. When the cover for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” arrived, I was over the moon. The publisher ultimately acquired rights to the photo, and so the cover was a very pleasant surprise to me.

“Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” is another story. Because The History Press has published a number of beer books, the team wanted my cover to reflect the others in the series. I knew the finished product would include a skyline and a pint glass.

The skyline is the exciting part (besides seeing my name in print–let’s be honest, that doesn’t get old). When my editor requested Birmingham skyline shots, I turned to my friend Rachel Callahan.

Last year Rachel launched PictureBirmingham.com, a site from which she sells photos and photo products, mostly of Birmingham sunsets. All of her proceeds benefit The Wellhouse, an organization that fights sex trafficking in the Birmingham area. (You can read more of Rachel’s story in this Birmingham magazine article.)

The design team and I went back and forth a bit on fonts and which photo they would use, and I’m thrilled that one of Rachel’s images, “Autumn Comes to Birmingham,” graces the cover of “Birmingham Beer.” It depicts my favorite season (football!) in my favorite city (obviously)–and it’s also available for you to purchase from PictureBirmingham.com.

There’s plenty more “Birmingham Beer” news on the way, and I can’t wait to share the city’s fascinating brewing history with you.

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SPJ and I are serious


Swearing-in selfie

Last year I shared why I (finally) joined the Society of Professional Journalists. Last month, I became vice president of my local chapter. This is the text of my “acceptance speech,” which I sent to chapter president Meredith Cummings via text message. Want to get involved? Learn more on the chapter website and like the chapter on Facebook.

I, Carla Jean Whitley, do solemnly swear to uphold the bylaws of the Society of Professional Journalists Alabama chapter and the powers invested in me as Vice President. I will write all emails in AP style, and will fight with autocorrect but eventually give up when it insists on capitalizing things like Vice President. I will fulfill the duties of the office to the best of my ability, even if it means emailing from bed while running my essential oils diffuser and drinking herbal tea to stave off allergies. I will let Meredith know if we need to dial it back because we’re overextending ourselves, and I will discourage her from taking on any additional Twitter accounts. In the names of Pulitzer, Bernstein and Woodward, Strunk and White, amen.

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What I’m writing: April 2015

You may have noticed that my “what I’m writing” posts have dropped off. I’m not going to catch you up on everything I’ve written since (although I’ll offer a few highlights), but there has been a lot happening since my last such post in November.

Birmingham Beer title pageFirst, I wrote another book. “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” releases July 27. Although it’s available for pre-order via Amazon and I always appreciate your support, I’d love for you to wait and buy it from your (or my!) local bookstore. Keep more of your money in your local community. I’ll certainly update as the publication date draws near.

But more importantly, I changed jobs. After eight years at Birmingham magazine, I was ready for a new challenge. So I said my farewells, packed up my boxes and moved … across the hall.

Since late February, I’ve been a features reporter for The Birmingham News and AL.com, two of the magazine’s sister publications at Alabama Media Group. That’s probably the biggest reason I won’t link you to everything I’ve published since we last spoke–there’s simply too much of it! I’ve gone from planning, managing and editing a talented team of freelancers to chasing down stories of my own, and I couldn’t be happier.

Bottletree Cafe (art by Greg Smith, #Bham52)This return to reporting has allowed me to follow up on a Reddit post that led me to an Alabaster resident’s weekly depiction of Birmingham and write a thank-you letter to one of Birmingham’s beloved music venues. When we received a press release about an architecture art exhibit, it sparked a trip down memory lane to Birmingham’s Terminal StationI’ met the youngest musician in the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and learned how the organization is working to attract millennial patrons.

I also expect the future to include many stories in Birmingham magazine, where I most recently wrote the January cover story.

The Promise of the $20,000 HouseOf course, I continue to freelance a bit, which always results in something worth talking about. January’s Paste magazine story allowed me a mental field trip to Seattle, where I’ve enjoyed the city’s many delicious breweries, and Boston, which is high on my to-visit list. BookPage offered me the chance to interview Judith Claire Mitchell, author of the hilariously dark “A Reunion of Ghosts.”

And February brought my most popular article ever, “The Promise of the $20,000 house” for The Atlantic’s CityLab.

Y’all, I’m living the dream. And I suspect there’s still more to come.

Want more? I try to keep my “What I’m Writing” Pinterest board up to date even when I’m not sharing it here. 

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If I knew then what I know now

It’s possible I’m too honest with my students.

Before I handed back graded assignments tonight, I addressed a common error throughout. But even as I explained why it’s so important to keep an eye out for this issue, I offered a confession: “I suspect some of this is a result of end-of-the-semester busyness or laziness. I get that. I would do the same.”

The truth is, I was a mediocre college student. My grades weren’t bad–I was an A/B student and would have lost my scholarship if my GPA dropped too low. But I wasn’t particularly concerned about my grades, I skipped as many classes as possible without academic retribution and I often thought I knew more than my professors. (Oh, the ego.)

So I can understand where my students are coming from when they get a little lax with AP style. But if I had it to do over again, I’d try to be more like the kids I teach:

I’d show up to every class and ask tons of questions.

I’d stick around after class to show the teacher my resume and ask how I could improve it.

I’d ask professors with experience in my field about how they built their careers.

I’d figure out whose career path looked most like what I wanted, and I’d study his or her work.

I’d use my class assignments as opportunities to further those end goals.

I figured a lot of that out by the time I entered grad school (and the fact that I was bankrolling that degree didn’t hurt). But the kids I work with are several years younger, and they consistently impress me. They’ve got their strengths and weaknesses, sure, and not everyone is taking each of these steps. (Then again, not everyone wants to follow my career path.) My goal as a teacher is not only to impart knowledge according to the class syllabus, but also to encourage my students to get as much as they can out of their college careers.

But if I had it to do again, there’s at least one thing I surely wouldn’t change: I’d still prioritize life experience over grades. After all, no one cares now about my GPA.*


*If you’re wondering, I finished my bachelor’s with something like a 3.4, and my master’s with a 3.6. But if I, the girl who can still rattle off her SAT and ACT scores and takes pride in her GRE logic score, am not confident in those numbers, it probably says something about how much your GPA matters down the road.

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Filed under Be true to your school, Journalism

Contemplating “The Geography of You and Me”

Nearly three years ago, I responded to a post in a Facebook group from a woman seeking a copy editor for her memoir. Although I didn’t yet know this woman, I knew of her; Amy Bickers and I had several friends in common and I read her riotously funny blog, Vodka Cranberry Clooney. I jumped at the chance to edit her book, largely because I badly wanted to read it.

I knew it wouldn’t be an easy story. Amy’s memoir is an account of witnessing her ex-husband’s suicide and how she processed the darkness that followed. She writes beautifully, powerfully about mental illness, addiction and the sorrow of those left behind. Although the subject matter is dark, the book is ultimately hopeful.

Since she entrusted me with her words, I’ve been convinced that Amy must share her story with the world. Many agents said kind things, but ultimately passed on it because they believed the subject matter would be hard to sell.

At last, Amy has taken matters into her own hands.

Today she launched a Kickstarter to fund “The Geography of You and Me,” which was the best book I read in 2012. In fewer than 24 hours, Amy is $246 from her funding goal.

Let’s push her over the top. (Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to see this project funded in less than a day?)

Amy has written beautifully on the campaign page about what you’ll find in the book and why it matters. I encourage you to spend some time with her words. But I also urge you to consider this: Reading someone else’s story helps us better understand the world. That’s why I believe “The Geography of You and Me” must be published. Regardless of whether you see yourself or someone you know in this story, I believe it offers valuable insight into an all-too-common struggle. Understanding one another helps us embrace our humanity.

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Abandon perfection

Fallen star and the first amendment, just for funsies

Fallen star and the first amendment, just for funsies

As I wound my way through rows of bodies bending and waving through a non-pose called ninja lunges, I reminded 16 yoga students that this shape wasn’t supposed to look like anything in particular. “Perfection is a myth,” I told them. “Seek the stretch and benefit your body craves today.

That’s the deeper truth that calls me back to my yoga mat, day after day. When I’m moving through the postures, I’m acutely aware that today’s crescent lunge isn’t as deep as yesterday’s, or that my tree may not be as stable tomorrow. Yoga stretches my expectations and pulls me away from my normal OCD, to-do list mentality.

And then I quickly return to my type-A, follow-the-rules career. Journalism appealed to me over fiction because the rules are well established and the stories are there for the asking. I love the blend of science (the rules) and art (the telling).

I often let the rules–or a fear of not following them to a T–keep me from taking challenges with the art. Please don’t mistake me, guidelines help us refine and focus. But a story without heart isn’t much of a story at all.

I invite my yoga students into the release of perfection I’ve found. My journalism students, however, need the same freedom.

“Both require a commitment to practice rather than perfection; reward risk-taking rather than hesitation; flourish with timely but limited suggestions that encourage rather than frustrate; are active all-at-once activities that are learned by doing; and remain difficult no matter how long you’ve been doing them.” —Megan Fulwiler, “On Yoga and Teaching Writing,” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education 

It’s not as though I can abandon grading rubrics and expectations, deadlines and AP Style quizzes. Those are requirements of the job for which I’m preparing them, and this is a college class, after all. But as I’ve spent more time practicing yoga, my desire to share its benefits with other writers has grown. These aspiring journalists, especially, crave encouragement and guidance. Even while I cover their work with red ink, I hope I can bring some of my yoga practice to the page.


Filed under Journalism, Yoga

The perks of small-space living

Furniture that doesn't take up much space, such as a coffee table with thin legs and a glass-topped, neutral-colored entry table, help make my tiny living room appear more spacious.

Furniture that doesn’t take up much space, such as a coffee table with thin legs and a glass-topped, neutral-colored entry table, help make my tiny living room appear more spacious.

I share 780 square feet with a roommate and two cats–and this isn’t the smallest place I’ve lived. But like that smaller space (a one-bedroom garage apartment), it’s one of my favorite dwelling places.

The tiny dimensions come in handy when I tackle projects like Apartment Therapy’s January Cure. I love this site’s periodic organization and cleaning challenges, even though I tend to be a hair obsessive about order on my own. And my roommate already loves it because the first assignment resulted in me cleaning all of the floors in the house.

My friend Carrie has written at some length about her affection for New Year’s resolutions (she tends to turn them into blogging challenges), but the truth is, I have a number of projects on my plate already. I’ve got several exciting writing assignments ahead, additional yoga training later this month and a book due in March. So I kept my official resolutions simple: floss every day (so far, so good!) and work on the aforementioned manuscript daily (until it’s due, of course, so that’s kind of a cheat of a resolution).

Even so, I can always make time for a more orderly, tidy life–especially since I have so little space to clean. When I exist in a calm space, I feel better equipped to deal with the chaos of daily life.

My small-space living tip is keeping on top of things so you don’t feel like the walls are closing in on you. How do you make the most of your space?

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Twelve Tips for Pitching a Freelance Story

Picture this: You’re an assigning editor at a magazine, and your inbox regularly overflows with pitches from freelance writers. Because freelancers write the bulk of the magazine, a good story idea is like gold. But when you’ve got 50-plus pitches to sift through, it’s hard for that gem to shine.

That’s the challenge I’ve faced in five years as an assigning editor at a monthly magazine. But here’s the good news: Using these easy tips, your idea will stand out from the rest.

Tip No. 1: Pitch!

It’s fine to ask editors how they prefer to assign, and if they’d rather you pitch or if they prefer to assign. But “let me know if you need anything” comes across as asking for a handout.

I receive so many pitches that I can’t possibly fit them all into the magazine. If someone’s pitching great ideas, they’re way more likely to get an assignment than the person who is waiting around.

Tip No. 2: Follow websites such as “Who Pays Freelance Writers?

It’s a great resource and will also help you identify possible outlets for your work.

Tip No. 3: Every time you’re reading a publication and think, “Man! I’d like to write for them!,” find their writers guidelines online. If you can’t find them, email an editor there and ask. (Associate level or higher will often be your best bet, as they’re more likely to be assigning editors, but editorial assistants may also have that info.)

Tip No. 4: Get your website up already! Make it easy for potential clients to find you. This is also a benefit because you can showcase your best work without jamming their inboxes with unsolicited clips.

Tip No. 5: Never send large, unsolicited files. If you’re attaching clips, fine, but make sure they’re not 5 megabytes plus. Here’s a hint: If the files are too large and you have to resend them attached to several separate emails, you’re clogging the editor’s inbox.

Tip No. 6: Read, read, read, read. Know the publication and its voice before you pitch. But don’t obsess to the point where you don’t actually pitch. I don’t expect my freelancers to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the publication. That’s my job, and I’m not going to look down on them for pitching something we’ve already done unless it’s in the current or immediate past issue. Then they’re just being lazy.

Tip No. 7: Keep it simple. Don’t send a multi-page pitch. If I want more info, I’ll ask for it. Something that details is likely to fall by the wayside because I’ll save it for when I have time to properly digest the email—and that may not be for weeks.

Tip No. 8: Unless it’s a time-sensitive piece for a publication that publishes frequently, do not follow up in 24 hours. And never follow up to say, “Hey, did you get my email?” I receive about 75 emails daily. I will respond to yours, but likely not within 24 hours.

Tip No. 9: Do follow up. I try to respond to every sincere pitch (that is, something that came from a person, not a mass email). However, things slip through the cracks. Following up in a week or two is perfectly appropriate.

Tip No. 10: Value your time and your work. You’re a professional writer, and the payment you receive should reflect that. If you work for free or cheap, be sure that it’s worth it to you. For example, I’m working on a low-paying piece for a site where the reader is the target demographic for my books. I’m getting more than money out of that.

Tip No. 11: Establish your boundaries, and respect those of the editor. It irks me to get pitches on my personal email account and text message.

Likewise, know that it’s OK for you to say no to an assignment. If you don’t have time, be honest about that. A good editor isn’t going to avoid using you in the future because you weren’t at his or her beck and call. That’s part of the deal with freelancing. You aren’t on staff. We don’t have the high overhead of having you on staff. And you have the flexibility to work on other projects.

Tip No. 12: Negotiate. The terms of most stories are negotiable, and as long as you’re professional, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Rates, deadlines, word count, even rights and sometimes payment terms (upon acceptance or upon publication) can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

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