I’ve only written one query letter in my life. Never got so much as a form letter response. I’ve never written a manuscript proposal or created an outline for anything. Yet, I’m a writer. It’s in my blood and in my dreams. The fuel was there and fear kept me from igniting it until this winter.
Here in Albuquerque, we have a dynamic weekly alternative newspaper called the WEEKLY ALIBI. I have read it faithfully (it’s also a free newspaper) since moving here in 1991. Every few months I’d think out loud: “Criminee, we’ve got this great alternative paper and we live in the alternative health care mecca of the US and rarely does the ALIBI run an article on what’s new in the alternative health field.” Now this is not a one-time, random thought. I began to study carefully the index each week. Sure, once a year they ran their Alternative Health Special Edition, like that would make up for the other 51 weeks!
I sat down in late November and penned an email to the editor listed on their masthead. Of course I spent a paragraph fawning over my beloved weekly rag and affirming all the good stuff I find there and how helpful it is. Then I asked him why, as an alternative paper, more information on alternative health is not forthcoming. I launched into about 14 or 15 topics off the top of my head that he could address or research. In closing, I simply stated that I hope to see more information in coming issues.
A few days later at work, I open my email and lo and behold there’s a strange subject heading from the editors email address: “What’s your pitch?”
What’s my pitch? What the heck does that mean? It meant, what was I willing to write about. Huh? I read and re-read to make sure I understood that my somewhat irate email had somehow been “mistaken” for a query letter. OH MY GAWD. He thinks I want to write for them.
OK, by now you must realize that I’m a bit awkward with this. And while my heart was racing and my throat was constricted with fear, I zapped off another email with a proposal for what I would want to see in an article. Back came the reply: No woo-woo stuff; we can leave that to our competition. Good sound facts, 2500 words, deadline is January 14th.
If I had not been at work, surreptitiously checking my email through my phone calls, I would have let out a whoop heard all the way to El Paso. Instead I quietly got up from my desk and went to the ladies room and cried. I’m a writer. I’m going to write an article.
The next month and a week were busy. By golly I did my work. In retrospect I overworked it. Too much research, too many contacts, too much information to condense. Some great sidebar materials, long-distance phone calls to my star component. And for those who are curious, No, I did not ask about payment. Contrary to all the advice and all that is written here and all the times Angela has encouraged us not to do that, I committed to writing without an acknowledgement of payment. And I did a heck of a job. It was great. I was still working on the umpteenth re-write at 4:30 AM that Monday morning. I emailed it promptly at 8 am…..and went to work! And I wasn’t exhausted, I was riding the high that comes from making a commitment and seeing it through and knowing that a few weeks from now, I’d have a byline.
When the article came out later in January, I was excited and nervous and yes, a bit anxious. However, I had gone through my baptism in fire. I was no longer afraid to tackle an article or a query letter or create a proposal. All the years of procrastinating my life away waiting for the “perfect” moment to arrive evaporated when I hit the send button that morning.
Ah, but wait. It only gets better, dear friends, readers and colleagues. I gave notice at my job that I no longer wanted to work full-time. After the initial shock wore off, my workload was reduced to what fit comfortably within 20 hours and I began to experience the joy of not going to a job every day. I’m at home, loving the time to myself, to garden, to explore experiences I felt I did not have the time for previously. And I write. Every day. I’ve sent out several queries and have a couple of proposals pending. I’m not grinding it out like I thought. And that’s good, too. Developing my writing career is much like the process of gardening: everything has its time and season. The process is growing each day and I love the connections I’m making.
At the beginning of March, I received an email from the editor of the WEEKLY ALIBI: “My accountant tells me we neglected to send you a check for your January article. If you will provide me with your address, a check will be forthcoming.” A check? A CHECK?
The check arrived a couple of days later. Like a delicious cognac at the completion of a great French feast, I fondled that check for days before depositing it into the business account I set up a couple of years ago. I’m a professional writer now, I told myself. The internal exuberance was matched only by the glow on my face. I walked on a cloud for days. And it was a good check, too. At ten cents per word, it was good compensation for what I had put into that first article.
Do you want even better news? I made a couple of suggestions to my editor, (he’s now “my” editor) and my second article for the WEEKLY ALIBI is coming out May 17. It’s called “Chics on Hawgs: Musing on Women and their Motorcycles.”
I have no magical recipe for success. Except this: I acted on my strong beliefs about a subject. I contacted a publication I enjoy and read frequently. I offered the editor good, sound topics as possibilities for an article thereby exposing my own knowledge and enthusiasm for this material. I accepted his challenge, met the requirements, gave the editor exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it and left it to the winds of fate. So, just dive in. Really. Or back in like I did. Once you’re wet, you can enjoy the swim. Happy writing to all of you.
Yes, I ride motorcycles. At 51, I’m excited by each and every day I wake up breathing so I can get into more trouble and continue to embarrass my children. I work part-time as the assistant to a rabbi, part-time as a caretaker on a small estate in the North Valley of Albuquerque, and part-time is devoted to enlarging upon my initial writing success. Who knows? Maybe next year, a book!