Back when I published work only occasionally, for little pay, in places no one had ever heard of, a friend ‘shared” a story assignment she was too busy to handle herself. In doing so, she introduced me to the wide publication possibilities that food-writing can open for writers.
I called to arrange the interview, then pored over every scrap of background my friend had accumulated about her source. I knew next to nothing about the specialty-foods business, but the owner was more than happy to educate me about the company his family had nurtured for three generations.
That’s when I discovered that, while writing about what you know is good, writing about something you’re interested in learning more about often works just as well. I’m certainly interested in food and, apparently, so are a lot of readers. That’s why it’s one of the most ubiquitous topics covered in a range of publications, and even the smallest newspaper often has a section devoted exclusively to it.
My interview source blessed me with great storytelling and stellar quotes. When it came time to write the story, the rapid turnaround of newspaper work forced me to do what has never failed me since: Keep the writing succinct and within requested word count; make it clear and accurate; and keep the tone conversational, even friendly.
With that short deadline, I used another approach that’s become standard practice. Upon arriving home, I immediately drafted whatever I could remember from the interview, looking for places where things linked naturally, or transitions were obvious. While those sample tastes of jams and designer vinegars my source had provided were fresh in my mind, I found words for them on the page.
Hundreds of articles later, I seldom include much more than what I capture in these ‘first thoughts”, even when faced with tapes of complex interviews. This is where I usually ‘discover” the lead, if I haven’t already heard it during the interview, and often intuit how the story will wrap.
After I submitted that first story, the editor called two days later to alert me to the abundance of food- and cooking-related articles up for grabs for the paper’s home-and-lifestyle section. He offered three such assignments in this first call.
One newspaper assignment always led to another, and kept me well-stocked with ideas that often found their way into successful magazine queries and article resales in both print and online markets. Best of all, with good food-writing clips in hand, I was able to pitch and sell stories to such better-paying markets as Delicious Living, Organic Producer, and Yankee magazines. With my background in health (I’m a former nurse) I also began to write more about food as it relates to health and nutrition, opening up a whole other arena of niche markets for myself.
That distress call from my friend got me moving on what I could have done myself without waiting for an invitation. Equipped with clips I already had, I could have approached that editor (in appropriate fashion – by query or phone call to set up an appointment) to let him know I was available to take freelance assignments. Even without clips, a carefully crafted manuscript sample or two, along with at least one compelling story idea that showed I read the paper and knew my community, would have gotten me in the door.
Little did I know that if I’d been willing – and ready – to handle food-related topics, he had a veritable feast of available assignments just waiting in the wings.
New Hampshire writer Phyllis Edgerly Ring’s articles have appeared in such publications as American Profile, Bay Area Parent, Christian Science Monitor, Ms., Women’s Health and Fitness, and Writer’s Digest. She serves as instructor for the Long Ridge Writers Group of the Institute of Children’s Literature and is a weekly columnist for United Press International at www.religionandspirituality.com. Her current book project addresses how to maximize children’s opportunities for spiritual transformation and growth.