I’d held onto the brief guidelines for Landscape Magazine for months with the intention of dreaming of “something” that would fit the profile. LM is a trade magazine, and I’d never read it, and didn’t know how to put my hands on it since it’s designed for landscape business owners. But my degree is in agriculture and my hobby is gardening. I often pick up writing guidelines and test myself to come up with at least one idea before tossing it aside. It’s like a double dog dare kind of thing between my muse and me.
A light bulb finally came on and I wrote the piece late one night, more to get rid of that guideline than anything else. I could check that writing exercise off my list. The 600-word piece went something like this.
A year ago, I hired a landscaper to do my yard. I was new to the Western US and had no clue how to plant and design my yard being a South Carolinian, and I didn’t have the time or money to make a lot of mistakes in the Arizona desert. The guy drew pretty pictures and spoke a little down to me as the “lady of the house.” When I whipped out my agronomy degree, he changed his tune.
I advised the readers of Landscape Management Magazine to develop a sort of Landscape IQ measure with clients to not only help them become more efficient but also to avoid insults or stumbles. A simple questionnaire concept would aid all parties involved. Simple concept.
I emailed the piece, turned off the light and went to bed. The editor of Landscape Management woke me up the next morning (I’m on the western side of time zones, mind you) in adoration of the piece. A contract appeared on my fax within 30 minutes and I had a deal – at 50-cents/ word. I danced all over the house with the dachshund.
I learned a huge lesson in that moment. My little life. My often mundane, periodically exciting, usually normal life had moments of interest for editors and their readers. If I had not written down that situation in my personal notes, I might not have remembered it for this article. My little event had a spin the editor thought just fabulous as a lesson piece for his publication.
Bottom line – writing what you know is still an oldie but goodie in terms of writing advice. It doesn’t mean you have to write about your hobbies, your degree or your career. It means those little snippets of life you often record in your journal just might fit a magazine editor’s theme. They also work tucked in your short stories and novels. They don’t work long forgotten and never recorded.
What is normal for you is amazing to someone else who craves the experience. Writing what you know is deeper than listing your knowledge of house cleaning or gardening. It’s taking your little slice-of-life moments and spreading them out to others. And the best news is that these little opportunities can find themselves in publications you never thought you’d query – like Landscape Management Magazine.
Take your writer’s market references and look at publications other than women’s, children’s, or writing magazines. We writers tend to favor those a lot. Flip through the exotic, the unique, and the subject matter you never thought you’d peruse, and pick one. Then tape that baby on your monitor and let it ferment. Look at it everyday. Then one day, a little light bulb will come on for you as well, and you will make your pitch.
Do this one publication at a time, and one day you’ll look back and realize you have clips that show that you are a diversified writer – one that editors can trust with almost any material. A writer that wins those double-dog dares.
C. Hope Clark is the editor of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success, available through Booklocker.com.