Sunday, September 11, 2005

Choose Carefully What To Write

As a new writer, I wanted to capture almost every experience from my life on paper. In some ways, it’s a good place to start. Many magazines love personal experience stories.  Your first-person account of an experience can make a great illustration of a particular point. The storytelling—like any other type of writing—still has to be excellent and include the key elements like pointed dialogue, vivid detail and moving the reader toward a particular point or take-away.

I’ve written many of these personal experience stories and they have appeared in various magazines. I believe these stories have helped other people (part of my motivation for writing them). Also as a writer, they have been a key part of my development and learning how to tell good stories.

Yet I’ve also learned that some personal experiences will never appear in my magazine articles or in print.  It’s easy to recall these stories and they may have value for others—yet I’ve chosen to carry them as life experiences and not expose them to others in print. I may tell them in a casual conversation or I may never tell them—and that’s perfectly OK.

Four years ago, my wife and I lived in Northern California. I was working for a dot com and learning a great deal about the advancing technology—a great experience. Then our world was rocked with multiple acts of terrorism against the United States. I believe many of the personal stories from that single event will never be captured in books or appear in print. I can easily recall where I was standing when I heard the news and a number of the bits of conversation on that day. It was life-changing for me and many others. I’ve decided not to write about those experiences. They were something to hold close to the heart.

Years earlier I listened for several days of teaching from long-time writer and editor, Elizabeth Sherrill. She told us, “Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas.” How do you choose which idea to pursue? It’s critical you have a degree of passion about the idea for it to come into print. 

Your degree of passion about the idea might just be to write a one-page query letter about it. Then you send that query to different magazines and see if you can get someone else to share your passion. Or your passion for the idea might stir you to write a full-length book proposal, send it into the market and see if someone will allow you to write that particular book. It may happen—or it may not. I’ve written numerous query letters which have never garnered an assignment. I’ve written several book proposals that haven’t found their mark.

I believe there is something refining about the process. It’s understandable not every life experience translates into a magazine article or a book. It’s also understandable not every query or book proposal actually makes it into print. If it does, then your query or book proposal has stirred the heart of an editor who has championed your cause and rallied others to the merit of your idea.  Our challenge is to choose carefully what we decide to write.

1 Comment:

At 3:02 PM, Blogger C.J. Darlington Left a note...

Passion for a subject really does seem to be important. I remember reading in Writer to Writer by Bodie & Brock Thoene (one of the first writing books I read) to look at your interests, and then write about them. Being interested in the subject will translate onto the page.


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