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Writing for the Family Market
by Liz Walker

A great writer once said, "Write what you know." A former writing teacher of mine once said something similar in one of her classes, "Write down five bodies of knowledge…five areas of your personal expertise or interest."

The first time I heard those words I was the mother of two children and expecting my third. I could only think of three "bodies" of knowledge: one, was 18 years old and driving me crazy, the other was 18 months old and driving me crazy, and the third "body" was giving me "morning" sickness at the precise hour those evening classes with Ms. Fielding started. Not much else occupied my thoughts, except that somewhere deep inside, there was another sickness that wouldn't go away, I knew I was a writer but I was the ONLY one who knew that.

My life consisted of constantly switching from being the mother of a near adult, who was trying to find her place in the world, to the mother of a near two year old, who was…trying to find HER place in the world. (These worlds often collided.) Then one day, while shopping with my two daughters, an unsuspecting salesperson gave ink to my poison pen.

My first article ever printed was written for a childbirth education newsletter. It was more of a personal essay, really. It was titled, "They are both my daughters!" and it was written in the heat of the moment after the young sales clerk, attempting to be friendly, asked me if my second daughter, was my first grandchild. The exclamation mark at the end of the title pretty much says it all. It was not my best piece of writing but it got me started, and it got me started thinking.

I began reading magazines like, Parents Magazine, American Baby, and a local publication, Tulsa Kids, through a writer's lens. I looked at the kind of articles they published to see if there was a niche for me. What I found was that most were "How to" pieces, "How to get your baby to sleep through the night", "How to potty train your child in ten easy steps", etc. I was initially discouraged because I thought, "I'm not an expert. I have more questions than answers."

My second and first REAL publication came a few years later when my son was nearly two. Boxing up the last of his baby things and carting them to a consignment shop was the inspiration for another personal essay. It turns out the editor of Tulsa Kids was looking for just that kind of article; an end of an era, moving from babyhood to childhood, kind of thing, and as it turns out, I had queried her at just the right moment. For the past six years I've been writing regularly for Tulsa Kids. Most of those have been "How to" and "10 Tips" articles which are brief (600-800 words) and fact filled. No, I never DID become a parenting expert but I learned how to find and question people who are. To (loosely) quote that writing teacher, Peggy Fielding, again, "Everybody's an expert at something. You may not think you are, but you are."

I'm still not an expert at being a parent, (just ask my kids) but I became an expert at having questions about being a parent. I wanted to know things like; How much TV is too much for my kids? What are the best toys? How do I find a good pre-school? A babysitter? How do I keep my kids from fighting? How do I stay in touch with my teenager? How can I entertain my toddler on a rainy afternoon? What are some good birthday party ideas?

Many of the questions I was asking were universal parenting questions. That's the key. Universality. Editors are always looking for what they call, "fresh approaches to age old questions". So if you're an aspiring parenting writer, write what you know, but also…what you want to know more about. Chances are, other parents are seeking answers to the same questions. If you can answer them with skilled, well-written prose, then you could have the start to a great career.

© Copyright 2000, Liz Walker

Liz Walker is a freelance writer who specializes in family and parenting issues. Links to her articles can be found on her web site at lizwalkerwriter.tripod.com

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