Posts Tagged ‘articles’

Can a Good Writer Make a Story Out of ANYTHING?

February 27, 2012

Not too long ago, I got a great assignment from the editor of a website devoted to religion. She had identified seven key ethical values — empathy, compassion, spirituality and a few others — and she wanted me to create a kind of grid showing how each of these values develop in children, with boxes for infancy, toddlerhood, preschool-age kids, middle-grades kids, and teens.

Now, it was pretty easy to find experts on and research about how children of all ages demonstrate values like empathy and compassion. Studies show, for example, that even very young babies will cry when they see another baby crying. But there was simply no evidence, no studies, no nothing –at least not back then — to show that babies can feel spiritual. I contacted child-development scientists and authors at major research universities and facilities, and got the same answer: Spirituality develops later.

So I finally called my editor, who resisted my explanations, evidently because the horror of a blank box in her grid outweighed any need for facts. “Come on now,” she said condescendingly. “You know as well as I do that a good writer can make a story about anything.”

I was speechless. My first thought was that I couldn’t believe what she was saying.

My second thought was that she was right.

More recently, I took my young daughter and her friend to a classical music concert at a local community center, and was approached by a reporter and cameraman from a local TV station. The reporter held the mike to my face and asked why I had decided to come out with young children on such a cold, dark night.

“I knew the music would be beautiful, and I wanted to enjoy it with them,” I said.

“Did you come to be part of the great community spirit here tonight?”

“No,” I said. “I just wanted to hear the music.”

“But would you agree that there’s a wonderful feeling of community, with so many people from town coming together?”

“I guess,” I said. “But we came for the music.”

Not surprisingly, when I saw this story on the local news the next night, I was not part of it. Instead, there were a bunch of people talking about — what else? — community.

As for my story, I went back to my old sources, found some new sources, stressed that I needed something, and finally was able to weave together a few vague sentences that linked babies and spirituality, albeit with the thinnest of threads. I never wrote again for that website.

Sure, I guess a good writer can make a story out of anything.

Just not sure I want to be that writer.

How about you? Have you ever had to create a story where there was none?

Another resigned day in the life of just another working writer.

 

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Freelance Writing and the Long Goodbye

February 1, 2012

I’m afraid the time has come for me to talk about goodbyes.

Not too long ago, I scored a steady gig with a regional, glossy magazine. I had spent months painstakingly querying the managing editor, pitching ideas, and following up on emails, trying to be polite and firm but not annoying or pestering. Finally, she got the green light from her boss to give me an assignment — and that led to a regular quarterly column.

I loved writing for that magazine. I loved its luxurious photography. I loved its thick, glossy paper and the charming graphics that accompanied my articles. Mostly, I loved the relationship I formed with the managing editor–the greetings we’d send as my manuscripts went through various revises, the banter about clueless or too-talkative interviewees. I learned that she had a big house in the country, as well as a big, sloppy dog and a couple of kids, and she was planning to take a cruise on the new QE2. She was kind of a friend, although I never saw her except on the photo on the magazine’s masthead.

And then, last summer, after more than two years of steady writing, the email came, informing me that my beloved column had been canceled. “It’s nothing against you,” my editor-friend said. “It’s just that the editor-in-chief wants to scale down on the amount of copy we’re running and add more photo spreads.”

Sirens went off in my ears and red alarms started flashing in my brain, spurring me to act fast and salvage the relationship. Reminding myself that her company had two other publications in addition to the one I had been writing for, I fired back a response. “I completely understand,” I wrote, “and actually, I have a few ideas for your other magazines that I’d like to share with you. Do you have some time later this month? I’d love to stop by your office, or even buy you a cup of coffee.”

“Hmm, coffee sounds good,” she wrote back. “But we’re putting out the next issue, and things are a bit hectic. Let me call you in a month or so.”

No, she never did.

The bookshelves in my office are lined with magazine holders storing publications I used to write for but no longer do. Back when my kids were infants and toddlers, I wrote all the time for Parents and American Baby, using my own experiences as a source of ideas. But my kids started growing up at the same time that one of my favorite editors left American Baby to become a nurse, and those gigs sort of drifted away. I also used to be a book reviewer for bn.com — but my editor there left as well, and her successor decided to write the reviews in-house. I really miss those assignments.

Of course, there have been plenty of new gigs to take the place of those that went away. One of my long-term clients has kept me so busy lately that he’s changed my bio in the magazine from “freelance writer” to “regular contributor.” I’ve found great opportunities at online publications, and a few editors I thought I lost touch with have found me through the Internet and given me assignments from their new berths. Scouting out new opportunities is part of being a freelancer. It’s what makes freelancing fun.

Still, I can’t help wondering how my editor-friend’s big, sloppy dog is…and whether she enjoyed her cruise.

Another sentimental day in the life of just another working writer.


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