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Writers and Scholars
by Susanne Shaphren

"Write about what you know" doesn't have to mean devoting your whole life to the study of a single subject.

My professional struggle against the intimidation of blank paper prompted me to write "Beat The Block" (April '78, THE WRITER.) Personal experiences translated into sales to OPTIMIST UNLIMITED NEWSLETTER too. "Do Talk To Strangers" and "Have A Nice Day!" were "researched" without ever setting foot in the library.

Don't sell yourself short. You don't need a degree in business management or home economics to write inflation-fighting articles. Health conscious cooks on a budget know exactly how to cut costs and calories without sacrificing nutrition or taste. If you're one of these kitchen magicians, sharing your tricks with readers may be the key to boosting filler and article sales.

Do-it-yourselfers who have the skill and patience to help others do it too can take advantage of abundant how-to markets. Subjects that interest you enough to make you wonder often provide a springboard to success.

Several articles and books on incest started me thinking about how these cold hard statistics translated into human experience. Remembering that I couldn't afford to take the scholarly approach and spend years interviewing victims, I merged facts with carefully constructed fictional characters my readers could care about. PERSONAL ROMANCES published the results.

I used the same technique when approaching the subject of terminally ill children and the growing trend toward caring for them at home instead of in hospitals. Several articles provided background information; a healthy dose of imagination supplied the rest of the material I needed. "He Deserted Our Baby Because She Is Dying" appeared in TRUE SECRETS.

One of your most valuable research sources can be found in any mirror. As those birthdays add up, so do unique life experiences that contribute special insight to articles and stories.

Growing up with a mother who pioneered oral education for the deaf (by starting the first program in Arizona) taught me there was more than one option for the parents of a deaf infant, more than the limited world of finger-signing communication available to deaf adults. "No More Tears For Margaret" was published in TRUE EXPERIENCE. "I Didn't Want His Pity, I Couldn't Win His Love" found a home at TRUE LIFE SECRETS.

You don't have to have dirt under your fingernails to write about rural life. A childhood visit to a farm and a writer's natural curiosity were all the preparation I had before selling the first three stories I submitted to FARM WIFE NEWS. Perhaps not living on a farm was an advantage because I was able to use the point of view of an outsider to create change of pace stories.

Science fiction provides the ultimate opportunity to create whole new societies or explore forgotten facets of existing ones. It's still possible to come up with a different slant on "the end of the world" or try a twist on the new beginning theme. You don't have to be a scientist with a string of degrees; you just have to be willing to work hard enough to make your brave new worlds credible.

Because writers often take the time to read between the lines, to wonder why things happen the way they do, we often wind up knowing a little bit about a lot of different things.

We may never know as much about a particular subject as scholars do, but by making the most of what we do know and using the helping hand of research to bridge the gaps, it's easy to increase sales.

© Copyright 2004, Susanne Shaphren

Susanne Shaphren's articles, essays, and fiction have appeared in an eclectic assortment of online and print venues including: AbsoluteWrite, Children's Playmate, Espresso Fiction, Jack and Jill, Mouth Full of Bullets, The Writer, and Weight Watchers Magazine. "Arrangements" is included in Mystery Writers of America Presents Show Business Is Murder. "Trouble at the Door" is available as a Wading Pool download from Swimming Kangaroo Books.

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