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Putting 'Me' in Your Writing
by Kathleen Ewing

Creating essays that enlighten, inform or educate readers is a noble goal, but often impractical if you plan a profitable career in this business. What readers want most from a writer is a good story, a story about a person like them, someone vulnerable. And the best stories you can tell—the ones that you can infuse with the most enthusiasm, sincerity and sensitivity—are about yourself.

I recently wrote a piece about watching the tractor destroy my grandmother’s garden after her death. Originally, I was simply capturing a poignant memory in my journal about growing up in an era when the traditional family farms had begun disappearing in the Midwest. But the story kept nagging at me until finally I wrote a 500-word piece about my experience that sold to Bend in the River, a small historical magazine in my native Northwestern Ohio. I wrote it in fifteen minutes. It sold for $45.

Now $45 doesn’t sound like a lot of money these days, but just imagine how many of those kinds of gems are tumbling around in your cranium just waiting for the proper setting to sparkle. If you write one such piece each day as a warm-up exercise and polish it when you’re between larger projects, you could soon be enjoying a tidy little sideline income from these jewels.

You say nothing interesting has ever happened in your life? You didn’t arrive where you are as an airborne seedling, sprouted in the dark and grown in a vacuum. Start where I did, with some of your early memories. We all have them. Work forward from there.

  1. Your childhood memories: How did your parents discipline you? Did a bully torment you? Did you flunk kindergarten? What kind of lasting impact did those events have on your life?  

  2. The difficult teen years: Were you a military brat who never lived more than a year on the same post? Has that made you fanatical about providing a stable home for your children? Or did you buck the family tradition of living your entire life in your hometown in favor of seeking adventure as a game warden in South Africa?

  3. Your twenties: Did your family pressure you to stay in college rather than travel to foreign lands with your buddies? At family reunions, did relatives badger you about getting married and having children?

  4. At thirty: Were you wishing you had stayed single, become a jockey and ridden in the Kentucky Derby? Or were you feeling the urge to stop traveling, to settle in a small community and raise a family?

These are stories that will appeal to your readers. They want to know if you agonized over the same choices they did and experienced the same rewards and regrets or whether you chose a different path and how that has worked for you. Write about what you did, how and why you did it. But the most important element--the dynamic that compels an editor to buy and a reader to read--is how did you feel? If you can convey that sense of vulnerability to your readers, you’re gonna make money as a writer.

And where will you sell these articles? If you are writing about your youth, sprinkle your article with landmarks or activities that are unique to that area. Then grab a copy of Writer’s Market and check out the regional magazines for that part of the country. Or do a Google search like “regional magazines +Oregon”. Be on the lookout for publications that want nostalgia, personal experience or memoirs. If you grew up in the country and want to share your experiences there, check into rural consumer magazines like Hobby Farms or Country Connection or Farm and Ranch Living. Use that same search technique for uncovering personal markets in sports, religion or travel.

You will find markets you’ve never heard of until you began the search. And not all are in the 10-cents per word category. Texas Co-op Power buys thirty manuscripts per year in the eight to twelve hundred word range. General interest, nostalgia, travel. And at $400 to $1000 per piece…well, if I were from Texas, I would be making notes on how to get “me” into their publication.

© Copyright 2009, Kathleen Ewing

Kathleen Ewing is an award-winning freelance writer headquartered in Central Arizonas high country. Among her credits are feature articles for Art Calendar, American Falconry, Bend of the River, TrailBlazer and Hobby Farms magazines. Visit her blog at www.rodeowriter.blogspot.com

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