Susan Smith: Fear of Writing Success Story

“Fear of Writing has given me a lot of new friends, a creative outlet, and a chance to push myself to do some things I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”
– Susan Smith

Editor’s Note: Is Susan A Lot Like You Inside?

While attending the Fear of Writing Clinic in April 2005, Susan Smith (pictured) told the group she’d like to become a freelance proofreader/editor. I pointed her toward freelance resources on the ’Net; she looked around and stumbled on a site that certifies editors and proofreaders. From there, she created a new career for herself in a very short time, despite her feelings that she’s “ordinary.”

Like most of us, Susan harbors self-doubt and doesn’t believe she makes for an interesting “success story.” So, please remember: Your perceptions of yourself may be far below what you’re really capable of. I hope Susan’s story will inspire you to see your own creative gifts more clearly. – Milli


Michelle Strunge Moser, Supervising Editor at, was kind enough to share her impressions of Susan for this article.

“Susan scored 97 percent on the proofreading test,” Michelle said, “which falls in the 100th percentile. She is among the top three proofreaders we have on board. Yes, the test is HARD; no one has EVER gotten 100 percent correct on the test. She is also certified as a Grammatika expert copyeditor.”

With her outstanding test results, Susan was given a chance to help create a new Web course for the company’s sister site. Grammatika provided a short sample for style: Susan matched it perfectly and sustained it for the entirety of the lessons she wrote for them.

“She is one of the most brilliant, versatile writers I’ve encountered in my nearly two decades in the publishing industry,” Michelle said. “I would trust Susan completely with any project I could throw at her. She writes with confidence and humor, drawing her audience in and making them feel at home in the most foreign of topics.”

The course Susan wrote for, performing punctually under a tight deadline, is called Essential Skills for Proofreaders.

“Your blog readers can find Susan’s work at,” Michelle added, “although they won’t be able to actually see her work unless they register for the course itself.”

Both and are projects of the Michigan-based company, Copyright Editorial, LLC.


“At,” Susan said, “I took both the copyediting test and the proofreading test. Individually, they were $79.99 each, but you can get both for $99.99. I’ve always been a bargain shopper. It was a money-back deal if you didn’t pass.”

Before you can be listed on the Grammatika Website, you must make at least a 70 on the test(s). To be named an ‘Expert Editor,’ you must make at least an 85. Susan was also awarded a special seal: the Certified Expert Editor Seal.

“I took the proofreading test in October of last year,” Susan said, “and the copyediting test in November. I was notified that I passed about two weeks after I submitted them.”


After completing her work on Essential Skills for Proofreaders, Susan began a freelance editing project working for a local author. She commutes twice a week to Boerne, Texas to work on a project she was referred to by Milli Thornton.

“The book I’m currently working on,” Susan said, “is historical fiction. It’s part of a seven-book series. My client has two books written and is working on the third. He has created outlines for the rest of the series. He’s 72, but he says his mother is still alive and kicking at 94, so he figures he has at least another twenty years to get his books written.”

Susan works in her client’s home office. The author likes her to edit his paper manuscript as well as making the changes to his computer document. She might also need to do some research.

“He basically leaves me alone,” she said, “but he comes in once or twice to go over any questions I have. If there’s a matter of clarity or awkwardness, I read him my re-write and we’ll talk about it.

“He says he’ll need some publicity, too,” Susan continued, “so he might want me to write a couple of articles about him. It is shaping up to be a very low-stress job. I can come in whenever I want, one or two days a week, and my hours are basically my own. The biggest drawback is that I can’t do it in my jammies.”


Susan is a retired English teacher who has been married to her husband, Bill, for 36 years. She agreed to share a little of her life with us.

“Bill and I met in freshman registration line at Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University) in San Marcos. The first thing I noticed was his eyebrows. I think I need to go look that up in your mother-in-law’s book.”

(Editor’s note: Susan is referring to a book called Faces: What You See is What You Get by Sandra Moore Williams.)

“We have three kids,” Susan said, “all girls. Heather is 28 and teaches first grade in San Antonio. Erin, 24, is in her first year of teaching third grade in Burkburnet in north Texas. Caitlin, 17, is a junior in high school. Caitlin loves to write and enjoyed attending the Fear of Writing Clinic with me last Spring.

“We live in ‘no man’s land’ between the city of San Antonio and the incorporated town of Bulverde, TX. We’ve lived here for 27 years.”


In college, Susan was a grader for the English department. She worked for two different professors each semester and marked their students’ essays for errors.

“I made one dollar an hour, but back then I guess that was decent money for a college kid.”

After graduation, Susan was an art teacher “for one long, miserable year,” but for the rest of her teaching career she taught high school English.

“I loved the kids—juniors and seniors—but finally got tired of grading research papers and teaching Hamlet, so I decided to go back to school and get a degree in library science.”

With her degree in hand, she went back to San Antonio and worked as a librarian in several elementary schools. Most librarians can go through their entire career and never have to move a library. Susan had to do it three times and says it’s an absolute nightmare.

“Makes you want to throw away a lot of books,” Susan confided. “I didn’t. But I was really tempted!”


Susan’s hobbies include gardening, talking to her chickens, planning her middle daughter’s June wedding, and working on “never-ending projects” around the house.

“Right now we are building a combination chicken house/potting shed. It has grown into what Bill calls the Taj Ma-chicken-hal. I also enjoy studying herbal medicine and like to mix up remedies in my kitchen sink. I can cure your sore throat and earaches and make all your boo-boos better with my concoctions.”

Susan has worked as a belly dancer for fun and profit but says it was one of the things that had to go when she went back to school. She still listens to the music and has kept all her costumes.

“I also get to hang out at pig shows,” she added. “Caitlin raises pigs for ag at her school. Her pigs are going a long way toward financing her college education, so you can’t make fun of her.”

A hobby she is famous for is watching Johnny Depp movies. Susan does all her writing in a Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean spiral notebook. Her alter ego is Captain Jacquelyn Sparrow, herbal pirate queen of the Caribbean.

Susan said, “I dressed up as her at an eccentric tea party given by Fear of Writing pal, Dee Nielsen. In my mind, at least, I dress like Captain Jacquelyn Sparrow every day.”

For her weekly dose of Fear of Writing, Susan loves attend- ing the local Fertile Material Writing Circle (dubbed ‘The Chicklettes’). In this group photo, taken at Chicki’s Coffee Shop, she is standing in the back row, far left.

At home, Susan polishes the stories she most enjoyed writing. She describes her style as funny mixed with satire. She says a reader once described it as ‘Erma Bombeck meets Kinky Friedman.’


“My very first Fear of Writing story (written at the Fear of Writing Clinic, April 16, 2005) turned out to be the unfinished saga of a little Texas town named Saggy Bottom. A lot of my Fear of Writing stories keep going back to Saggy Bottom.

“One day,” Susan said, “I hope to turn my Saggy Bottom stories into a book. If Saggy Bottom ever does end up as a book, it will only be because Fear of Writing was there when I needed it.”

One Response to Susan Smith: Fear of Writing Success Story
  1. Marilyn
    March 4, 2006 | 9:37 AM

    Susan, great article. You make me laugh every Tuesday with your creative and witty stories. I am so happy for you. You make the Chicklettes proud.

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