Narrow Your Scope to Achieve a Goal By Lauren Carter

After writing full-time for a local paper and then freelancing for newspapers and websites for a few years, I set the broad objective to break into a national glossy.

I bought magazines to study and tossed them in a bin next to my couch, too intimidated to open them for almost a year. I consulted a fellow writer about how he broke into magazines, bought the book he suggested, read it and made a mental note to implement the book’s strategies…at some point. I occasionally sent a half-baked query off to a magazine and never heard back. I woke up some days in a fog, overwhelmed by the number of national magazines I could break into, unsure of where to begin in my quest to break into one.

Then I decided to simplify things and focus primarily on a high-profile hip-hop publication. My extensive music knowledge combined with the experience I’d amassed writing about music, including hip-hop, made me somewhat of an expert in the field. And I already had a contact at the magazine, a digital editor I’d written for when he worked at a hip-hop website.

I started by writing a few pieces for the magazine’s website free of charge; the real pay was my developing relationship with the magazine.

I sent tighter queries and made sure to include my clips from the magazine’s website. I knew I was on the right track when an editor responded to a pitch about an embattled rapper, saying he would discuss my idea in their next editorial meeting.

That was on November 5. Twelve days later, my mother died unexpectedly, and everything stopped: writing, promotion, life. When I returned home to Massachusetts after three weeks spent handling my mother’s affairs in South Carolina, the last thing on my mind was national magazines. But as fate or other mysterious forces would have it, while I slogged through a December snowstorm in my mother’s SUV, an editor at the hip-hop magazine e-mailed me about a possible assignment.

That e-mail exchange ultimately led to my first national magazine piece, a 250-word front-of-book item published in mid-March. That led to two more assignments from the magazine, the latest an 1100-word feature assigned directly from the editor-in-chief.

Maybe this was God’s way of taking mercy on me after the horror of my mother’s unexpected passing. But I’d like to think it was the inevitable payoff for a precise goal and a coordinated campaign to achieve it, a lesson that even amidst the worst of circumstances, the seeds you’ve planted will someday bloom. I’d forgotten about my goal, but it hadn’t forgotten about me.

Lauren Carter is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Herald, XXL Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine, the Boston Phoenix and America Now: Short Readings from Recent Periodicals, a writing textbook for college freshmen. For more information, visit http://about.me/laurencarter or follow her on Twitter @LaurenCarter1.

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