Karen Bentley: September 2015 Barefoot Writing Challenge Winner

Barefoot Writer Karen Bentley

Barefoot Writer Karen Bentley

Congratulations to Karen Bentley for Winning the September 2015 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The Challenge was to write an essay that answered this question:

At what moment did you first consider yourself a writer?

Karen wowed us with her frank account of early love for the writing process and how it’s carried her through life in different forms. Enjoy her winning submission:


by Karen Bentley

Karen wowed us with her frank account of early love for the writing process and how it’s carried her through life in different forms. Enjoy her winning submission:

Some of my fondest memories are of learning to read — first letters, then words. It made me feel powerful, like I was unlocking a secret code. As I began stringing words together properly on paper, the very process of writing became a source of deep pleasure through elementary and middle school, and I often received compliments on my efforts. However, it took a pivotal experience in 9th grade English class for me to claim the title of writer.

Our assignment was a multi-page essay on any topic. In a fit of teenage girl pique, I lampooned my rural school — particularly the unsophisticated (I thought) boys who attended.

Mrs. Cohen awarded it the top grade and barely suppressed her laughter when reading it aloud in class. My classmates (the girls, anyway) also found it funny, and it was published in the Junior-Senior High School newsletter — earning my first byline.

Fortunately, the full essay is lost in the mists of time (although I recall one phrase: “hayseed trailing from their pant cuffs”). Happily, I survived those 15 minutes of fame, and went on to lead a reasonably civil life.

Looking back, it wasn’t the attention from adults and peers, nor even seeing my byline, that had the impact. In fact, I barely remember those details. Instead, it’s the visceral writing experience that’s locked in vivid memory — how thoughts, feelings, and words converged onto paper swiftly, and with the startling force of a rushing mountain stream in spring.

When I reread the work, it felt complete. And good. And satisfying.

I was a writer.

Years later, I’d learn the term “voice,” and even later, “flow experience.” Each is a coveted quality and they are often intertwined. But do they occur every time I write? Not even close.

Perhaps that’s because my life’s journey has, for stretches of time, required no writing other than the occasional card or thank you note.

Or perhaps it’s because when I have written full time, it has been for other people and for their purposes: magazine articles, business reports, corporate videos, grants — even academic research papers and book chapters. Sometimes my name appears on the work, sometimes not. For those assignments, I’m like a soloist in a choir who delivers a song’s message within the context of the ensemble. The final product may not be solely my voice, but it will be within my own range and it will be right for the client.

And of course, there are other competing elements, such as when a project seems to insist on being wrestled right down to the final syllable, straining my patience and consuming more time than anticipated. And on top of writing without attribution or recognition, I have also willingly written without financial compensation.

Despite these diverse realities, though, I still find joy, pleasure, and accomplishment in the craft of working with words, thoughts, and feelings.

And for as long as that continues, I will consider myself a writer.



  1. To whom it concerns,

    Hello. Although I have received your brochure in the past, I am still curious about your company. A little about myself, I am an aspiring writer with my first two novels in the works, love writing short stories and hand writing personal letters. I am interested in engaging in different forms of writing to balance out my life but, the issue that I’m faced with is, I have no passionate interest in writing business ie: research papers and or chapters, promoting products for businesses, writing boring big company business letters etc. I am more of the creative type who loves to delve into the curious, whimsical, magical, interesting, scary, speculative, themed, travel, old world, I’m obsessed with the big screen and especially all of the music that brings them to life…so, with all of this being said, i was just wondering. Could your company possibably have the kind of jobs that I’m seeking. I truly hope this letter helps you to see who I am more clearly.
    Thank you warmly for your time and consideration in reading my letter.
    Regards, Amy M. Romano(:

    • Li Vasquez-Noone on

      Hi Amy,

      Creative writing is a lot of fun, but it’s hard to make a living writing it. That’s why many creative writers, novelists, poets, and so on are also freelancers. It’s an ideal side job for a writer, because you get to write for a living, it’s flexible, and you still have time to work on your own writing projects.

      There are also markets that are naturally more creative. Writing articles for the travel industry, for example, or working with artists to promote their creations.

      You can also write your own blog or website, ebooks, and so on. Then you can use your writing skills to market yourself.

      I hope this helps give you some ideas. Best of luck on your writing goals!

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