What shall I write about? That may be the most asked question in my house. The second is, usually, “What should I make for dinner?”
Deciding what to write about is not due to a lack of ideas. Exactly the opposite. Writers can’t go anywhere without tripping over ideas, hundreds of them. The problem is choosing just one. So many ideas, so little time.
When people ask where I get my ideas, they are, I think, actually wanting to learn where they can find something to write about. Maybe they haven’t learned that ideas are everywhere, and maybe they don’t know the difference between an idea and a subject. Travel, for instance, is a subject but not an idea. An article about “Visiting historic sites with children” is an idea that several editors might be interested in seeing.
Any writer could take that idea, put his or her own unique spin on it, and come up with an article completely different from what another person would write. Thousands of ideas like that are out there, waiting to be spun into compelling articles. You have to limit yourself to the ones that jump out at you, the ones you find so interesting you have to make them your own.
Here are a few places where ideas have jumped out at me and turned into saleable articles: An airport newsletter, the Sunday newspaper, an antiques show, a young child’s classroom, the Yellow Pages, the county archives, a college classroom, and a flower show. These publications, Airport Services, Collector’s Weekly, Momentum, Memphis Business Journal, Downtowner, and Memphis Home & Garden all bought one of those articles, and Grit bought several.
The whole point of this is to show that ideas are everywhere and so are the markets. When you find an idea that interests you, turn it into an article an editor may buy. The trick is to be alert and open to ideas. Ask yourself, “Would this make a good article?” and “Who might want to read about it?” An example: The Yellow Pages article was a business story about a vinegar factory, so a good market for it was Memphis Business Journal, which is read by business men and women..
Look for potential markets in Writer’s Market or Writer’s Handbook, or one of the Internet sites with market listings. A Google search for “Writer’s Guidelines” plus a word or phrase closely associated with your idea can also turn up possible markets. The magazine section of your local library can be another source for ideas and potential markets. If you live near a college or university, you may find that their libraries often have more magazines — and ideas and potential markets — than your local library. And most will give writers free access to browse their holdings.
You can take any idea you find there or elsewhere and use it. That’s because ideas can’t be copyrighted. (Neither can titles. You could even use “Gone with the Wind” as a title for an article — or a book — if you wished.) If you trip over an idea today, you may want to grab it and run. It could mean a byline in the near future, plus a check with your name on it.
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Revisited: Writers Inspiring Writers
The Renegade Writer arrived on schedule and I’ve spent every spare minute enjoying its wisdom. Finished it early this a.m. Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell have done a fine job on this book. I expected to gain a lot from their writing and I wasn’t disappointed — proving to me once again that, even after more than 25 years as a selling writer, I can learn from others.
What Linda and Diana have done is demonstrate how to break outdated rules by using savvy techniques and up-to-the-minute thinking. They use their own experiences and those of other freelancers to show how to do it.
I’ve used some of their ideas during my freelancing years. For example, I’ve found that a query letter is not always necessary to get an assignment. As Linda says, sometimes an impressive letter of introduction will earn you an assignment. The book even includes a template introductory letter that Linda uses when approaching new online magazines for assignments.
There are scores of tips you can pick up in this book. Here’s one I really like: If a great idea hits when she’s in the car and she can’t juggle pen and paper, Diana uses her cell phone to call home and leave the idea on her answering machine. Now that’s a tip I’ll certainly use!
If you’d like to learn more about the book or take a look at their blog, go here: http://www.therenegadewriter.com/
Do you have a problem with punctuation? Wonder where to put those commas? Debate when you should use a colon or a semicolon? Fed up with exclamation marks?
During a recent lunch with a freelancer friend who used to be an editor, she told me how fed up she became with writers who sent in manuscripts with excessive punctuation, especially exclamation marks.
I could understand her frustration. I had just finished copyediting a national consumer magazine, so the topic was fresh in my mind. The magazine usually offers no pay to contributing writers. As a result, before editing, a majority of the submitted articles reflect their beginner status. (Professional writers usually do not contribute to publications that don’t pay for their work).
When I receive manuscripts for copyediting, many of them contain multiple exclamation marks. Some writers use three or four marks at a time to stress a point or to convey emotion. That’s the exact opposite of what stylebooks like the Chicago Manual of Style advise: “To avoid detracting from effectiveness … the author should use this punctuation sparingly.”
While aspiring writers may love multiple exclamation marks, other people hate them, including readers of blogs and forums. Look at the words of one person (calling himself/herself Jaffa Cake) who posted this opinion on the Mac Forum boards some time ago:
“People who use exclamation marks really wind me up. You can make your point well enough by using just one of them at the end of a sentence; there really is no need to go all !!!!!!!!!!! on us. Multiple exclamation marks are the sign of an untidy mind or something.”
So what’s the right way to handle exclamation marks? According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “An exclamation point is used to make an outcry or an emphatic or ironic comment.”
In certain usages, the mark is extremely valuable. Oklahoma! would not convey the excitement of that hit musical if its title were merely Oklahoma. The exclamation mark (a single mark) is a useful tool when you want to write something like, “Watch out for that truck!” he yelled. Or, “How could you possibly believe that!” Or, “How wonderful!” she exclaimed. Or, “Fire!”
Using multiple exclamation marks would not make these expressions stronger or more exciting. They would merely brand you as a writer who does not know better (or you have an untidy mind or something).
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Last night, I ordered a copy of The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. I’ve been wanting to read that book since it came out and when the book arrives in four days, I plan to do just that. Publishers Weekly called the book an excellent choice for both working and would-be writers, so I know it will be helpful in my freelancing efforts.
I’ve been enjoying Linda’s articles for many moons and, although I’ve not yet read Diana’s work, I hope to be able to do so soon. She’s a prolific freelancer whose work has appeared in Parenting, Family Circle, Self, Saveur, Psychology Today and other publications.
Did you see Linda’s multiple bylines in the August issue of Writer’s Digest? She wrote one article about how self-employed writers can find health care coverage, plus two interview articles about the unique spaces where writers Richard Adams Carey and Lisa Gardner find inspiration for their writing. (Carey’s work includes Raven’s Children: An Alaskan Culture at Twilight; Against the Tide: The Fate of the New England Fisherman, and The Philosopher Fish: Sturgeon, Caviar, and the Geography of Desire. Gardner has published 22 novels, including Game and Hide).
I’ve long been a fan of books and articles about writing. Soon after my first story was published (The Cookie Caper in Children’s Playmate Magazine), I began reading my way through the entire writing section of the local library. Then I started haunting the magazine section of every bookseller in Memphis, snapping up any and all writing publications I could find. I still do that today. Not only do I enjoy reading about writers and writing, I also draw inspiration from those articles. I’ve learned the craft from them. They have helped me become more productive and, I think, a better writer.
I’m sure I’ll also be inspired by what Linda and Diana have written in The Renegade Writer. And I’m equally sure I’ll want to read their follow-up book, The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock.
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Those Pesky Apostrophes
by Laverne Daley
September 14, 2007
They trip us up all the time, those pesky apostrophes. We debate if it should be McDonald’s or McDonalds’. Should we imprint The Smith’s or The Smiths on the mailbox? Is the almost weekly comic-strip rage of Dagwood’s boss the result of Mr. Dithers’ temper or Mr. Dithers’s temper?
Apostrophes are a dilemma for many of us and a source of frustration for some. Until I did a Google search, I had no idea that so many people were bothered by apostrophes. When it comes to misused apostrophes, I tend to grit my teeth and pass them by, but others take a more proactive approach.
Blogdom is ablaze with examples of apostrophe abuse in everyday life. Chris Duval’s most interesting blog Apostrophe Abuse includes photos documenting scores of those pesky apostrophes. I like to visit the blog regularly to see the latest photos and marvel at the myriad ways that people misuse the tiny marks.
Lots of those misused apostrophes are associated with food: on restaurant signs and menus (Now Serving Pasta’s) (corn or green bean’s); at the market (tomatillo’s $1.99 per pound) (assorted tea’s $1.19). A tattoo parlor advertises 1000’s of design’s. A music poster promises a Roomful of Blues by 4 Time Grammy Nominee’s. A private property sign states “No Dog’s Allowed.” A garbage container advises “Put Trash in It’s Place.” A zoo specifies “Member’s Only,” and an airport directs passengers, “For Carry-On’s, Prepare for Take-Off.” Then there is my personal favorite, “Dont’t Drink and Drive.”
Much of the misuse happens because people get mixed up on plurals, even though rules are clear. Names of persons and other proper nouns form the plural by adding s or es. No apostrophe.
We do use apostrophes in proverbial expressions like “Mind your p’s and q’s” or “Dot your I’s and cross your t’s,” but we should italicize when we do.
Apostrophes can be troublesome even when we’re not dealing with plurals, especially if pronouns or possessives are involved. I try to be very careful about pronouns, especially the pronoun it.
With an apostrophe, it’s means it is. Without the apostrophe, it denotes possession, as in “The dog wagged its tail.” To muddy the situation more, some possessive pronouns take no apostrophe at all: mine, ours, yours, his, hers, theirs, whose. I grab my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style whenever I have questions about pronouns and apostrophes.
Although apostrophes and pronouns can be a trial, apostrophes and possessives can be even more so, because possessives are tricky all by themselves. With apostrophes, they can be headache-inducing. But that’s a topic for another day.
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Expect to go off on a tangent whenever you read this blog. That’s because it will focus not only on freelancing as a business but also on the mechanics of writing and marketing articles, and on copy-writing and copy-editing. We’ll probably deal exclusively with non-fiction here. We’ll even cover non-writing topics from time to time.
The focus may change in the future but for now, on the business side, you’ll find links to articles I’ve written, plus links to publications where some of my articles appeared. Editors and potential clients can come here to see samples of my work and my writing style.
On the mechanics of freelancing side, you’ll find posts aimed at writers, both published and aspiring, and anyone interested in the craft of writing. Here we’ll cover diverse topics that freelancers encounter every day — finding ideas, punctuation, dealing with editors and clients, time management, getting paid what you’re worth (and on time), motivation and more. Feel free to jump in with new topics, opinions, suggestions and your unique input about how to make our work better. I believe we never reach the point when we cannot learn from others, and I’m looking forward to learning from you.
So, welcome to my world of freelance writing. Hope to hear from you soon!
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