Combining Writing with Other Talents By Claudia Carver

Since writers don’t often get overpaid for their labor, most of us have to develop frugal shopping skills to survive. Did you ever think you might morph these talents into a regular gig with your local newspaper? I didn’t – until persistence combined with luck to provide me with this little weekly bonus.

I say persistence, but perhaps “making a nuisance of myself” would be a better way of putting it. Close to a year after sending several query emails regarding their Gone Shopping column to the Lifestyle editor of my city’s newspaper, I was surprised by a phone call. They were looking for someone to write an additional shopping column – one that would appeal to people who didn’t have a lot of money to throw around. The editor’s first question to me was, “We’re looking for someone who knows how to buy things that are cheap. Do you think you might be that person?”

“I don’t do cheap,” I said, proceeding to explain the difference between cheap and frugal. My proposal also involved avoiding department stores and malls, and focusing instead on small businesses, farmers’ markets, and local artisans selling specialty items from their homes. Soon she was on board and asked me to work up three pieces. If they liked me, and I liked them, there would be a freelance agreement to sign.

Three weeks later, they decided I was the person for the job and I figured that coming up with ideas, writing them up, and taking the item in question down to the newspaper for a photo shoot was something I could do. My little column would appear in the newspaper’s Friday supplement.

The first few items were easy – toddlers’ soft soled shoes I had bought for my grandson, a yoga/meditation cushion made by a friend, and herbal products sold by a local enterprise that supports mental health consumers. Then I started to panic a little – where would I find something to profile in the weeks and months ahead? Would this mean I would have to spend more time shopping than writing?

I need not have worried – like most writing endeavors, the combination of working on a project, plus allowing space for new ideas to germinate, led to more possibilities. Before I knew it, my “ideas for future columns” file had grown large. Items such as a thermal lunch bag I had been using for two years that still looked like new, a local hiking guidebook, and a beaded evening bag from a consignment shop were perfect for the column. Things I had already purchased, or was going to buy anyway, or something I could borrow to take into the paper for a photo shoot would make great additions.

I’m asked to keep my column to 100 words in length. Along with a description of the item, where I found it, price, etc., I like to begin with an introductory sentence or two, to make it more than just an information list. I include things like:

  • Why not pick up one of these handy little Why Not thermal lunch bags?
  • Medical experts say that going barefoot is best for babies’ and toddlers’ foot development. But when the weather gets cool, Robeez shoes are the next best thing.

Recently my editor asked if she could put my email address beside my name at the end of the column – “in case our readers have some ideas they’d like to pass on to you.” And just in case I do run out of ideas sometime soon, maybe you’d like to suggest a few as well. You can reach me by email at: claudiacarver at

Claudia Carver has won local literary awards for short stories. She frequently publishes travel articles as well as short humour pieces on the frustrations and absurdities of everyday life. A former social worker, she recently co-edited a family history of recipes, anecdotes and humorous reminiscences entitled Grandma Dunn’s Soup.