I can’t write fiction. The best I can do is to transform a mundane real-life situation, embellishing it into a more intriguing tale. That type of writing is considered creative non-fiction. I often make people laugh, and sometimes readers respond to my writing with a nodding head, confirming “Ah yes, I’ve experienced that, too.” Friends say that I’m simply too honest to produce fiction; and friends don’t let friends write bunk.
I’ve been passionate about writing since I l mastered handwriting in first grade. In fifth grade, I typed a poem on a large index card that I recently discovered buried in a box of unsorted old projects. This attempt at poetry chronicled the life of Abraham Lincoln, from birth to death, and highlighted key points of his life with amazing detail. In high school, my letters to the editor were published and I worked for the school newspaper. At the top of many of my term papers, appearing in red letters, were the teacher’s words “well written.”
Good writers are good readers. But admittedly, the extent of my reading involved spending free periods in my high school library perusing assorted magazines. My dad is an excellent writer, so perhaps my writing ability is hereditary. We’ll have to examine the DNA sometime.
Growing into adulthood, my writing successes grew, too. As an occupational therapist, several of my research papers, book reviews, and editorials were printed in professional journals. Never too shy to express my opinion, I’ve had numerous letters to the editor printed in our local newspaper, and even letters in Business Week and in Fortune Magazine. The best part of seeing my name in print was receiving accolades from readers near and far.
I love goal-oriented projects, so several years ago, I wrote a collection of anecdotes about adults dating. With the support and encouragement of my local Fiction Writing Group, which I’d been attending sporadically over the years, I exaggerated the stories until they barely resembled the truth and wove them together with a somewhat compelling plot. This expanded into a twelve chapter, one hundred fifty page novella. I’m embarrassed to say that my masterpiece is still sitting in a drawer, and requires more work than I’m will to give it to take it to the next step. The writing group suggested adding some steamy romantic scenes, but my sense of purity prevents me from doing so.
A genealogy maniac, I located a relative sought after for seventy-five years. I submitted a manuscript for Ancestry Magazine’s “Tough to Crack” section. I was elated when I received an email accepting it for their September 2008 issue, and excited again when the check arrived.
Attending the 2008 Midwest Writers Workshop was a turning point. I paid the extra fee to hire a bestselling author to review and critique the first three chapters of my novella. Meeting aspiring and published writers from Indiana, surrounding states, and beyond, gathered to exchange writing tips and share camaraderie from others who take writing seriously was exhilarating. But after attending several magazine writing sessions, I knew I had found my niche. I’m someone who requires the structure inherent in magazine writing, such as word count, subject, and deadline. I’ve had an assortment of seemingly unrelated experiences in my nearly six decades. But the common thread is that often I embark on a path, unknowingly end up on a different track, but amazingly it turns out fine.
Write about what you know or write what you don’t know.
Though I enjoy the challenge of researching unfamiliar topics, and have had several of those articles published, I’ve found greatest pleasure utilizing my work experience as a therapist, accountant, teacher, and writer, and from my hobbies including genealogy, finance and business, do-it-yourself projects in the backyard and kitchen, and from being a mother and grandmother. Most of my writing ideas come from spontaneous conversations during an average day. I always keep a small notebook nearby to notate potential writing topics. (When I review the growing list of my articles published in hard copy magazines or online, I see that most are about frugality.)
Target your manuscript to a specific magazine.
I read magazines with different eyes than I did previously. When I’m at a bookstore, school or public library, grocery, pharmacy or even waiting room at the dentist’s office or at the auto repair shop, I glance through the magazines. I’m especially interested in the page that lists editors and other publishing information; I ponder what I might write for these publications. Truthfully, what I desire most is to imagine my articles appearing in favorite magazines that I already enjoy. An old earth-mother, I heat our home using a wood burning stove and was excited that Back Home Magazine published my article, Scavenge for Firewood, in the November 2008 issue. The lesser-known magazines are more likely to publish your article. These magazines typically have fewer staff writers, so consequently they’re dependent on their freelancers, namely you.
I should mention that I’ve had several articles published about finding free firewood in different magazines. Never plagiarize anyone, not even yourself. But it’s acceptable to re-write the same idea for a different audience. Seasoned writers do it all the time.
The magazine industry is ever-changing. The recession of the past few years has caused many print magazines to switch to online publishing. I enjoy the email feedback that I receive from all over the world about my online articles. Some people still don’t take the virtual world seriously, but your writing will be read and it’s a great way to get started and establish writing credentials.
Know what to submit and how to send it.
Read current submission guidelines or writer’s guidelines on the magazine’s website to learn exactly what an editor wants or doesn’t want. Use the Writers Market books, published annually, or FreelanceWriting.com, for additional advice. Don’t write for any magazine unless you have read it! Look at point of view (first person, third person), and other formatting protocols of that particular magazine. Study how others have written their articles. Make sure your topic is unique or at least offers a new twist to an old idea. Some magazines like to print articles containing lists, such as Idea to Novel in 7 Steps.
Writer’s guidelines should say whether they want to receive your query or completed manuscript. Most specify word count, which may vary for different departments of the magazine such as cover story or feature article. Some will specify deadline dates. Magazines that wish to receive a hard copy of your query or manuscript through the mail may provide the editor’s name. Increasingly, magazines are requesting your work via email. Usually they do not want it as an attachment because of the risk of computer virus, but rather as a cut and paste submission. Always, check your spelling and grammar. Don’t depend only on your computer’s spell-check function. If in doubt, choose a different word or phrase. Editors won’t waste their valuable time, correcting your manuscript; they’ll reject it or just ignore it.
Many magazines will request a short author’s biography. Keep a generic one available and rework it to suit the specific magazine that will receive your work. Some editors will request writing samples. These do not have to have been published, nor do they need to be articles for which you received pay. The good news is that the more you write, the larger a collection of writing samples you can choose from to suit the specific magazine. So keep your writing, published or not, organized in whatever way works best for you.
Writing for magazines makes cents.
Magazines pay freelance writers by the word, by the page, by the article, or not at all. Often they pay more for accompanying photos and graphics. Purchasing a point-and-shoot camera could pay for itself with one published article. Don’t refuse an opportunity to write without pay. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door; it also creates writing samples. Remember, it’s inconsequential whether you were paid, to anyone reading your work, including a magazine editor reviewing your manuscript.
If you are writing for pay, you’re not only a published writer, but the Internal Revenue Service and your state taxing agency, now consider you to be a business. Be sure to maintain accurate records of your writing income and “reasonable and necessary” expenses to file a Schedule C with your yearly 1040 federal tax form.
View yourself as a writer.
Published or not, if you are writing, then you are a writer. Whether you live in a large city or rural area, there are others seeking to connect with fellow writers. Locate other local writers to meet regularly and critique each other’s work. Network and join a writing group, attend workshops, conferences and writer’s retreats. Create a website and a blog, tell more about your writing and showcase your work, and include contact information. To keep the momentum going, read a variety of magazines and write something daily, even if it’s only a journal or blog entry. Link to websites that you find especially beneficial.
About the author:
Debra L. Karplus is a licensed occupational therapist, accountant, teacher, public speaker, mother and grandmother and freelance writer for several print and online venues. She writes a weekly blog for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners and has been a featured columnist for grandmagazine.com and for Young Money and writes regularly for The Dollar Stretcher. She has been an item writer for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and an essay writer for the ACT. She speaks to high school students who are aspiring writers and has taught magazine writing classes through her local public school adult education program. She is consumed with hobbies including genealogy and do-it-yourself projects at home. She had articles published about all of the above. Learn more about Ms. Karplus at http://debrakarplus.blogspot.com.
Also by Debra Karplus:
1. How to Find Paid Writing Opportunities in Unexpected Places (article)
2. How to Conduct a Creative Writing Class for Children (article)
3. Sell Your Non-fiction Article by Writing a Winning Query Letter (article)
4. 7 Effective Ways to Market your Articles (article)
5. Breaking into New Markets with your Freelance Writing
6. Generate More Writing Opportunities with an Online Presence (article)
7. How to Build an Idea Bank to Write Interesting Articles (article)
8. How to Make Your Article SEO-Friendly Before Selling It (article)