A Legacy of Words: Mom, Writing, and Me

Rhonda Barfield has been a writing coach for WriteAtHome since 2006. In those twelve years, Rhonda has helped hundreds of writers. I am proud of all of our coaches, but I have always particularly loved Rhonda's blend of warm encouragement and expert correction. She has always modeled how to push students kindly and graciously to excel in their writing.

I am also grateful to Rhonda for recommending her daughter, Lisa Strader, as a writing coach. Lisa continues her mother's legacy. 

Rhonda has decided to hang up her red ink pen. She will be sorely missed.

On behalf of WriteAtHome, the many students you have served, and their appreciative parents, thank you for your years of faithful, excellent coaching. We wish you the very best in your retirement, Rhonda!

Below is Lisa's Mother's Day tribute.

by Lisa Strader

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When I was six, I started “writing” for the first time. I can’t remember if this was my idea or if someone prompted me, but I spent hours of my free time creating a series of picture books. Although my drawings were fine, my handwriting and spelling were not, so I quickly turned for help to the best writer I knew: my mom.

Sure, Mom was in the middle of authoring her own books, drumming up publicity with radio stations and newspapers, churning out freelance articles, and homeschooling my three siblings and me, but she made time for my pet project. We’d sit at the kitchen table, me dictating the story and her transcribing my narration alongside the pen-and-marker drawings.

One moment in particular stands out in my memory. I was telling a story about a boy named Eric who becomes a knight. On this page, Eric held up his rainbow sword and crusader’s shield against a billow of flames from a dragon. In first-person narrative, I dictated, “It’s a good thing I have this shield or the fire would get me.” 

Mom nodded, but didn’t write anything yet. “Can you think of a more descriptive way to say that?”

Nobody else would have asked that question. No one else would have challenged a six-year old writing a picture book to consider her word choice more carefully, to think beyond her first instinct when creating a narrative. But I don’t remember being surprised or hurt, only thoughtful. 

I paused for a moment, running through several different wordings in my head. Then I stretched out my arms dramatically and said, “It’s a good thing I have this shield... or I would be destroyed with fire!” 

As she penned these words next to the orange and yellow flames, I felt a rush of pride. I knew that revision was part of the writing process— I’d seen Mom work her way through draft after draft of her articles and books— but now I had revised something. The story was more interesting, more descriptive. I was just like Mom!

That wasn’t the origin of my fascination with words, but it was a turning point. On that day I realized my power not only to create, but to improve my creations.

I quickly learned to handwrite, then type, writing story after story. I was that goody-goody kid who loved school (except math)— I spent inordinate amounts of time on my book reports, essays, and research papers. It wasn’t just the assignments that interested me; I was fascinated by the words themselves, the way that “curmudgeonly” had a slightly different meaning than “cranky,” that “drenched in mud” conveyed a different image than “caked in mud,” that tiny tweaks to the wording could spark a picture that shimmered on the page.

By my freshman year I had written two novels, both of which Mom patiently read and edited (they were terrible, by the way, but I sure learned a lot). She inspired me to start writing professionally, and we collaborated on several articles.

Mom was always encouraging, but always challenging too. Teachers often let talented teenage writers bask in their current level of skill without ever pushing them to be better, but Mom gave me the tools I needed to constantly improve, knowing I could never be “perfect” but enjoying the journey of trying. 

When Mom landed a job with WriteAtHome in 2006, she hired me as an intern. I’d proofread and give some preliminary feedback, then she’d read my comments and finish up the papers. We worked like this for a few years, until WriteAtHome offered me a job of my own, and I transitioned to coaching full time. 

This job opened up the world to me: I could travel anywhere with Wi-Fi. I edited papers from a blueberry farm in Washington, an RV in the Grand Canyon, a youth hostel in Florida, a hippie homestead in France, and a band van touring the U.S. (where I met my future husband). My time working with Mom had honed my teaching skills, and I found myself following her philosophy: ask lots of questions; find what interests a student; encourage but challenge.

Throughout my life, Mom’s example as an author and a teacher have guided me. She taught me to pursue excellence, challenge myself, and use words to make a positive impact on the world. I have no idea what my writing, or my career, would look like without her influence; I just know that I’m eternally grateful for the mother and role model I have. Happy Mothers Day, Mom!


Lisa Strader coaches at WriteAtHome, and enjoys freelance writing, acting, and gardening in her spare time. You can check out her blog at https://thetravelingmandolin.blogspot.com/