Category Archives: Writing
It all stems from a lunchroom conversation. A music teacher friend of mine, Lawrene, told me about a cool event: a Pulitzer prize-winning composer was coming to a local elementary school to sit down and help students compose their own music. The more I asked, the more excited I became. This story just begged to be written. And published. I jotted down notes and, unknowingly, conducted my first interview as a freelance writer for a print newspaper.
Writing itself is not new to me. I’d written in the high school newspaper decades ago and of course I’d written a lot in my previous career as a legal assistant. I loved to edit my family and friends’ college papers and dabbled in some freelance writing for online magazines, like Associated Content . Most recently, I’d written my first middle grade novel and felt the itch to get published.
After much research and drafting, I optimistically submitted the article to the local newspapers. At first, I didn’t hear anything. I imagined the newspaper offices were swamped and understaffed, due to previous budget cuts. I felt confident in my writing and knew it was print-worthy. I followed up with phone calls and two newspapers picked up the story.
Since then, I’ve published 25 articles, mostly in the Canton Observer Newspapers and I’ve learned a lot in the process. Here are 15 tips for writing in a print newspaper:
- A good story begs to be written and published. In other words, content is top priority;
- Of course, good writing is a must. Check your grammar and word choice until it’s perfect. Reading it aloud several times helps to know when to stop editing it;
- Talking about the idea with a friend or relative helps develop the story and draw out what makes it interesting for readers;
- It’s easy to write about something that’s exciting or that I care about. Even if the story is not one that I’m initially connected to, once I start interviewing, the excitement builds;
- Friends, family and co-workers are great sources for stories. Keep ears perked for ideas and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Before long, they will approach you with ideas;
- Make connections in the community that may serve as contacts for stories;
- Unlike many online newspapers, space in print is limited and brevity is key. Start out writing without a word number limit and then tighten it as needed. Sometimes, the editor already has an idea how much space they want to use and they’ll give you the word limit;
- Write articles without your opinions, unless it’s an editorial — “Just the facts, and nothing but the facts”. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t quote someone’s opinion, as long as it’s not a slanted story;
- Be sure to proofread. Especially check the correct spelling for names. This makes it a lot easier for the editor and that’s who you want to please;
- Interviewing key people is important to the story. Not only does it provide information in an exciting way, but they are passionate about the topic and can give eloquent and interesting quotes;
- Invest in a voice recorder for interviews. Not only does it help get the exact quote, but hearing the tone in the person’s voice helps narrow down what’s most important to him/her;
- Be sure to back up your facts and research thoroughly. Do your homework;
- Write the most important information first. In other words, use the upside pyramid formula with the least important information at the end;
- Once you have a working relationship with the editor, get your story ideas approved before writing them. This saves you time and gives you a better chance of getting paid;
- Take pride in your writing. Seeing my writing published in print was more satisfying than online; It also turns out to pay better (at least for me).
I love freelance writing! Not only do I love the thrill of seeing my writing in print and I like the extra money, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of interesting people right here in my community.
I can’t believe it! I was selected to go to Japan this summer as part of an international educators to Japan program!!! This includes a home stay, sight seeing and school visits. During the school visits, I will observe their classroom as well as teach a lesson to the Japanese students. I’m a little nervous but keep reminding myself that I already teach ELL kids and it should be similar. Right? 🙂 I feel so honored to be part of this program and will post my thoughts on my blog as the days get closer and of course, during the two-week trip.
How did this happen? First, I attended a Japanese School Open House — pretty amazing stuff — and learned about the IEJ program. Then, I was recommended by my school principal and submitted an essay about why I should be selected. I’m pretty blessed because they received applications from all over the world and they picked me! Woohoo!
So — how do I prepare for this (other than updating my passport)? Well — I decided I want to learn as much as I can about the Japanese culture, the country and the language prior to the visit. So far, I’ve learned a little Japanese etiquette (from AT&T On Demand) and I’ve checked out a number of library books and programs. Of course, I’m not going to be fluent by summer, but something is better than nothing, right?
Just today, I received a tentative schedule and it looks like I’ll start out in Tokyo, go to Hiroshima and then end up in Kyoto. I plan to meet up with my brother-in-law who lives near Kyoto. It’s wonderful that I have family in Japan who I’ll get to visit. So excited!!
So….today’s word of the day is Konnichi wa — hello. Simple, but it’s a start.
If you’ve traveled to Japan, post your advice here!
Max was whimpering like crazy as he peeked out the little window by the front door — his favorite spot to people watch. It was not to be confused with ordinary whimpering. It was more like his: “HURRY, WE HAVE VISITORS! let them in, please, please, let them in, they are my best friends, please…” But the thing is….no one was at the door. Or so I thought. Upon closer look — our “visitors” were our Halloween lawn decorations! We had to let the little guy go outside and see for himself. He ran right to them (Mr. and Mrs. Witch) and he literally stared at them for a full 30 seconds before daring to go up and smell them…aww chucks…not best friends after all…what a hoot!
I met Janet Evanovich at her book signing in Michigan and she is a one terrific lady! I’m a HUGE fan. How HUGE? Well, recently, I helped plan a fan party at our local library in her honor and then went in costume to her book signing and helped the book store entertain the long lines. It happened something like this:
My friend wanted to throw a “little” dinner party with all the favorites from the books (mashed potatoes, meatloaf, pineapple upside cake) complete with character costumes. Picture someone dressed as Lula or Vinnie!! What a hoot!! Then – I don’t know what came over me but I thought — why not make this a community event? I contacted the local library and it snowballed from there.
Each day we came up with more fun ideas and it was like planning a wedding! Food had to be DONUTS (all Stephanie Plum series readers would get this) and of course I figured I’d ask local businesses to sponsor this. At first it was just the donuts — Dunkin Donuts and Tim Hortons were super generous! Then the library provided coffee and gift cards for the used book store.
Hmmm….why not promote local businesses and help the economy while we’re at it? The responses were mostly positive! We had gift cards that related to the stories: Lula loves her chicken — so KFC donated gift cards! cars blow up in every book — Lighthouse Car Wash donated GCs! Food is a central theme in all the books so we had GCs from Wendy’s, Holiday Market, Leo’s Coney Island and Big Boy too. Big hair in New Jersey? Salon Anew GC! Rex the hamster and Bob the dog? Pet Supplies Plus GC! It was amazing! Even the Janet Evanovich website sent us tons of goodies to give out! (Thanks Alex!!)
The library wrote up a little blurb about the event in their newsletter (we just barely made the deadline) and their website (alright!) and our local paper wrote about it too! (AWESOME!)
In the meantime, my friend created most of the trivia questions and I typed them up and put them in balloons!! (okay that was much later…) The only way to get the questions is to have fans sit on the balloons and POP — like the cars that blow up in the books! Okay…more on that later…We came up with an ice breaker type game and little details and whammo – we had our games and activities!
Food? Check! Gifts? Check! Press? Check! Games and activities? Check! Costumes?….wait, what? I have to wear a costume? 🙂
I decided on the Stephanie Plum character because she’s one of my favorites — and, okay, so that one’s pretty easy without looking ridiculous! 🙂
By the way, my friend and I work in a school and the fan party was on the Saturday after school started!! Talk about a busy week!!!
Okay – now – my friend decides she still wants to have the dinner at her house after our fan party at the library and actually cooked a fabulous meal! She made mouth-watering meatloaf, chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls!! To top it all off, we had upside down pineapple cake AND double chocolate cake!! I could hardly move the whole night!! (Think: Thanksgiving). The characters in the books eat like this all the time — good thing they’re fictional — too much of a good thing. (And of course, we had wine, but that’s another story).
The morning of the event was filled with runs to the donut shops and bakery but the best part was loading my car!! Remember all those balloons with the questions tucked inside them for the game? I thought I was smart by putting them in four huge black garbage bags and putting them in my garage as I loaded up my SUV. I was standing in the back of my car watching my hubby put the seats down to make room and per chance, I glanced up — only three garbage bags are in my garage. One of the bags blew away onto the neighbor’s yard — complete with balloons inside – AND two of the balloons escaped from the bag! I made a mad dash after the bag and the run-away balloons! Did I mention how windy it was? Oh for pete’s sake!
The event was a blast! The fans were terrific and we all shared our favorite LOL parts of the Stephanie Plum series. The games and activities were fun and thanks to our generous sponsors, the gifts were great too!! (Big Boy even made a special appearance!) Oh yeah, and did I mention the DONUTS!!
The book signing was a total hoot! My friend arranged for us to provide the entertainment while people wait in the long lines. I was happy to do it and didn’t even mind wearing my costume — it’s like Janet Evanovich fans all “understand” each other — we love her books, the humor and the men in the stories!! So many women told us they LOVED Ranger!! I asked trivia questions and the best reaction was when I asked what was Lula’s previous profession — the answer was always “She was a HO!” complete with attitude and all! People were so funny – my smile was still plastered on when I left the store a few hours later…
I’d read so many things about the author previously that I felt I already knew her when it was finally my turn to meet her. She was all smiles and friendly (and probably a little surprised at my costume). Besides devouring all her Stephanie Plum series books, I’d read her “How I Write” book and found her to be very down to earth and refreshing as a person and writer. What a classy lady!
Pictures by Jennifer Wilmarth. I’ll post more pictures soon!
I took Max for a long overdue walk (it’s been too humid before tonight) and on our way home, I detoured through the neighborhood park where we found an adorable Yorkie. Of course, Max was super excited and they did their silent talk — I think Max dominated him by the way he kept lifting his left up (4 times) at the nearby tree. (Mind you — his bladder is completely empty by now). I looked around, expecting to see the dog‘s owner, but the nearby gardening neighbor said no. No one else was around.
I decided the adorable Yorkie must be lost so I took a closer look on his collar — he had one of those special invisible fence things on it and I could make out his name — Snickers. Cute, so I thought, until I tried to get the phone number and he turned all CUJO on me. I know he’s tiny, but I wasn’t taking any chances, so I backed up. He decided he had enough of the park and took off. I couldn’t leave him alone without finding his owner so I decided to follow him a little until I could get his number…somehow. In the meantime, I called my daughter to meet me at the park with some treats — bribery always works with Max when I want him to come.
Luckily, he stopped a lot — he liked Max, I guess — but every time I got closer — Grrr!! I was sure he’d get my hand or ankle one of those times. As I waited for my daughter, I saw two women with a stroller coming through the park path and a boy on a bike coming from the street. I asked them if they knew the little dog. The women didn’t but the boy recognized him after we said his name was Snickers. He pointed to a house down the street by the park! Phew! We returned the dog to the owner — she said the battery died on his collar and she had no idea he’d gotten out. (I resisted the urge to tell her to rename her dog.)
Some people are like Snickers – aren’t they? They look all cute and adorable, but you try to help them with something and they turn all Cujo on you. They put up a brick wall and don’t want to hear it, even if it’s in their best interest. If you push it, they show their teeth too. My reaction is the same with these people — step away slowly and no one gets hurt.
*Write what you know and research what you don’t; in other words – try to be as authentic as you can in order to be believable – whether you’re writing fiction or not – it turns off a reader when something doesn’t ring true;
*When quoting someone for a newspaper piece, wait for the right quote! People are amazing and no matter what age, when they are excited to share something that’s important to them, they say beautiful things – I found this was the case for every single article I’ve published; sometimes the best quotes come after the person relaxes and shares something, almost like an afterthought;
*Use a recording device for interviews – not only because of the obvious, getting the quote right – but it also helps to listen to it later and hear the excitement in the person’s voice and the event;
*Don’t give up – submit! so far, I’ve published everything I’ve submitted – even my Thanksgiving poem – (except for my ms, which I only started submitting recently); I became a freelance journalist ONLY because I submitted stories to the local paper and someone (awesome Editor that he is) liked what he saw and gave me a chance; it comes down to what the author, Janet Evanovich, says in her book “How I Write” — you’re not going to get published if you keep it to yourself – you have to submit!
*Listen to conversations around you – people say the most hilarious things in the most mundane places, like the grocery store and the oil change/tire store, etc.
*Don’t let the publishing industry dampen your spirits — they are human — really — and they are making business decisions — it’s not personal! Even if my ms doesn’t get taken up by a publishing house, I will still write my next ms — it’s completely based on the market and the bottom line and I get that;
*Reading the ms out loud is a must — especially to hear if the words come out smoothly, naturally or trip you up;
*Writing is a work of art! Before I realized this, I used to be so careful about my grammar, etc. and then I’d see a best-selling novel and find “errors” — or what I perceived as errors — like starting a sentence with “And” or having a sentence without a verb, etc. When writing prose — those rules are not so set in stone and it depends on the dialog or the flow. Perhaps the writer wants it to sound hurried. So she uses short words. Or the writer wants to keep it going and going and on and on because she wants to make a point of how long it really is…Just. Like. That.
*Avoid cliches! They’re just overdone and it makes for a boring piece. I love reading new ones – especially similes and metaphors that make me laugh;
*Exchange your ms with writing buddies who will give you the good, the bad and the ugly. (thank you Michele and Nancy!) Not only are they helping you with your ms, but when you help them with theirs, you also learn a lot too.