Friday's Star: Vonda J. Sines

Vonda J. Sines is a print and online writer who specializes in health and medical topics.  For many years, she has lived in Virginia, where she operates an animal rescue and is an Oblate of a Benedictine monastery.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a master’s in writing from Seton Hill University.  She’s also a Yahoo! Page View Millionaire.


Vonda J. SinesHi Vonda.  Welcome to Mandy’s Pages. I am extremely happy that you are part of this weekly program.  Do tell us a little about yourself.  

My name is Vonda J. Sines, and I am a non-fiction writer who specializes in health and medical writing.  I run an animal rescue, so it’s not surprising that I also write about pets and other animals, particularly horses.  I’m also an Oblate of a Benedictine monastery, so some of my work deals with religion and spirituality.


You have an interesting mix of interests: From medicine to animals to religion. That is impressive.  What was it like when you first decided to write, when you literally sat at your desk to write seriously?  What motivated you to write? 

I’m not sure you could call it a desk.  How about an upside-down box?  My mother, a teacher, took me to the public library when I was 4.  I asked her who made all those books, and she explained to me in simple terms what a writer was.  So when we got home, I ignored the stack of books (I had already learned to read), grabbed some paper and a crayon, and wrote about what squirrels do while they sit in trees all day.  I’m certain the spelling could have used a good editor.  I have never wanted to be anything other than a writer and an editor.


Wow.  That does show in your work and by the amount of passion you have for writing. How do you usually find your ideas? 

By asking questions.  My husband wonders if writers are born with all these questions pre-programmed.  Medical topics often come from personal or family experience.  Sometimes, though, a question about something familiar leads the discussion with a doctor or a vet to a less-familiar topic and an article idea.  There are quite a few medical sites that provide ideas.  Since the metro newspaper’s obituaries include the cause of death if known, reading obituaries is a source for health articles.  Sometimes something in the deceased’s past like career choice or interest leads to an article idea.  For example, after I read the obituary of a caterer, I sold an article on “green” catering.


(Chuckling) I quite like how your husband wonders about us writers pre-programmed with questions.  Like it or not, we are generally full of questions, which brings me to what do you mostly write about? 

My work is probably 75 percent health and medical.  The remainder is split between animal and spiritual articles.  About 95 percent of what I write is in the third person.  The only time I deviate from that is when a client requests it or wants a personal observation tucked at the end of a piece.


Do you face writing blocks, or is there anything like a writer’s block for you?  

I understand what they are, but I’ve never had one.


Would you consider yourself an expert in your field? 

When it comes to writing and editing, maybe.  As far as medical things, no—I’m a novice hovering at the level of having a grasp of human anatomy and medical terminology.  When it comes to animals, I’m probably an expert as far as rescuing them and writing about it.  As for religion and spirituality, I’m a student and will always be a student.  I would definitely say I’m an expert, though, when it comes to grammar and usage.


Do you face challenges as a writer? 

Absolutely.  The biggest is having a houseful of rescued cats 24/7.  That means constant interruptions and being unable to be at a computer for more than half an hour at a time. It means a very regimented schedule for controllable things like feedings at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. but being flexible enough to carve space for a couple of emergency vet visits each month.  The second challenge is living with Crohn’s disease, which is incurable, and sudden changes in my health and endurance level.  The bottom line is that these challenges limit my productive writing time, so I’m limited to working part-time.


If a publisher is to approach your work and review what you write, how do you think they will grade you on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the best? 

That would depend entirely on the publisher or the client and the subject matter.  The quality of my writing is very consistent, but I write for a number of sites and clients.  Lincoln’s saying, paraphrased, that you can’t please everybody all the time, applies.  Some publishers would rate it an 11.  Others wouldn’t like it at all.  However, I aim for a 10 every time I write.


How would you rate your quality of writing from 1 to 10? 

Most of the time, probably around an 8 or a 9.  At least I hope it is.


What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer? 

The standard advice goes something like set aside a time to write every day, write only about things with which you’re familiar, and just stop talking about it and sit down and do it.  My suggestion is a little unconventional.  I would recommend that anyone who considers being a non-fiction writer work for a couple of years at least part-time as an editor – if necessary, as a volunteer. It’s so much easier to see potential improvement in others’ work than in your own.  Good editors learn from what they edit and apply that knowledge to their own writing. It gets better and better over time.


What stands out for you when you visualize your future?  

I’m exactly where I’ve always wanted to be at this age.  I’ve always worked as a writer, sometimes as an editor as well.  I started my career as a journalist on a daily newspaper.  A few years from now, I’d like to return to that kind of work as a columnist instead of as a reporter or a feature writer.  Who wants to chase fire trucks at my age?  I’ve also taught journalism at the college level, and it would be fun to teach a writing class again.


Vonda, thank you so much for your time and patience. It has been a pleasure interviewing you.  Together with Mandy's Pages and all our readers, I wish you all the best in your writing and hope you can return to journalism the way you want to. 


For more information on Vonda, check out her personal profile:

Vonda J. Sines

Image Credit: Vonda J. Sines