Monthly Archives: March 2010

Personal Pros and Cons to Writing Magazine Articles

When I got serious about writing a book in 2006, I lacked credentials.  Getting published in magazines seemed a necessary step toward attracting a book deal.  So, I did my homework, chose a topic I knew well, and targeted the right magazine. Viola!  My very first magazine query letter netted my first published article

 Now, I have about fifty articles published, and my writing resume is looking more padded.  I won’t say it’s an easy part-time job, but the side benefits have been delightful (as you’ll see below). 

For anyone interested in breaking into magazine writing, I’ll discuss technique in a later posting.  Here, I want to disclose some random insights and experiences that have come from my short career.  Some may be seen as pros and some as cons (you choose), but I hope they inspire you to write articles, too.

1.  In a rare gesture of thanks, the Junior Cotillion coordinator had flowers delivered to my office after I wrote a story about her work.

2.  Sometimes, my children actually read one of my articles. (Why do they always seem shocked when they like it?) 

3.  Working on a deadline is like having perpetual homework.  Even if it’s a fun assignment, it’s always looming in the background.

Leona and Amy at News Channel 9.

4.  International opera singer, Leona Mitchell, said I “captured her spirit.”  (Be still my heart!)  Then I had a front row seat to watch her perform—one of the most moving concerts I’ve ever witnessed.

5.   Those extra hundreds a month come in handy for paying down my husband’s medical bills. 

Leona in Concert. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

6.  I read eight biographies to write one little story about astronauts.  It might be one of my better works–but I lost money on that one. 

7.   At events, I’m usually the one behind a camera or skirting the edges to look for a story or interview opportunity.  As Bob Green wrote in Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, “Show me a great writer and I’ll show you someone who’s rarely the life of the party.”

8.  Some topics sound boring at first (I won’t say which ones), but after a little research, they become fascinating. 

9.  One afternoon, I answered the phone and heard, “Hello, Amy, this is Reba McEntire.”  We interviewed for 18 whole minutes. 

10.  Magazine editors sometimes tweak my words.  It either improves my work or makes me cringe.

Jillian Harris (The Bachelorette) and Michael Moloney (Extreme Makeover Designer). Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

11.  I once stood in the snow for five hours waiting to get one on-the-spot interview with Jillian Harris (from The Bachelorette).  Her heartfelt story was worth it.

12.    What could be more inspiring than a compliment from another writer.  Best-selling mystery author, Carolyn Hart, honored me with this statement, “I feel your story is by far the best that has ever been written about my books.”   

13.    It is tough to stay focused on my novel, because writing articles offers a more immediate paycheck. 

14.    I’ve been asked to voice-record my articles for the Oklahoma Library for the Blind.

15.    When I hear that someone laughed, cried or learned from one of my articles—that’s one of the great compliments ever!

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Filed under Inspiration for Writers, Interviews, My Philosophy on Writing

Amy’s ‘Round the World Coverage

"Edmond" the goat

I have two articles published in this month’s issue of Distinctly Oklahoma: “Council for Educational Travel, USA” and “New Children’s Zoo: Playing This March.”  They may seem unrelated, but closer inspection reveals a universal theme.  Both bring other countries right into the backyards of curious Oklahomans–in the form of people or animals. 

Animal Article    http://distinctlyoklahoma.com/content/view/572/62/

The multi-million dollar Children’s Zoo at the Oklahoma City Zoological and Botanical Garden opens to the public on March 12th.  Its “choose your own adventure” format reveals a natural play setting where children can interact with animals.

Exhibit animals range from monkeys and flamingos to the cobalt-blue tarantula.  They represent various animal taxonomy from around the world. Visitors will have direct contact with the barnyard animals–but these are not your regular goats, sheep and pigs!  Each is an endangered American breed that the zoo is endeavoring to save.  Children will have the rare experience of touching a Silver Fox Rabbit or Guinea Hog. 

Since I’ve had the privilege of meeting these animals personally, I must say that the Nigerian Dwarf Goats are darling.  All twelve are named after Oklahoma towns during an online voting contest.  “Edmond” (which is the town I where I live) is awfully cute, but still shy of people.  I intend to visit him often.   

Exchange Students Article:  http://distinctlyoklahoma.com/content/view/567/61/

The Council for Educational Travel, USA provides foreign exchange opportunities for high school students.  Selected individuals spend a semester living with “the average American family;” learning culture, attending school, and experiencing holiday traditions.      

 Interviewing for this story netted some surprising humor.  One student from a large Korean city was amazed to see so much land and sky in Oklahoma, and even “some animals running around!”  Another student from Brazil commented on American driving:  “You could fall asleep driving so slow.  I’m used to 130 kilometers per hour on the autobahn.”         

I find personal joy at mentioning Keiko Hemmi in this story.  She was a Japanese exchange student to Oklahoma in 1989–which is when I met her.  She and I have continued to stay in touch for over 20 years, and she’s even visited a few times. 

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Filed under Published Article Announcement, Zoo

10 Writing Tips from Phyllis A. Whitney

 

Phyllis A. Whitney (1903-2008)

I can’t let February pass without acknowledging a great mystery/suspense writer of our century.  Phyllis A. Whitney, who passed away in February 2008 (age 104), wrote over 75 books. 

When I compiled my wish list of out-of-print books for Christmas, I had several Whitney requests.  Mystery of the Crimson Ghost, a mystery for teens, was at the top.  But my online “wishful shopping” revealed that Whitney also wrote three books about writing. 

At the Friends of the Library book fair last weekend, I found a near-perfect copy of Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels by Phyllis A. Whitney!

The contents of the 1976 book are dated.  Whitney argues the use of a typewriter over hand-written manuscripts and mentions an up-and-rising field called Young Adult novels, but I still gleaned timeless insight into her writing success. 

 Phyllis A. Whitney Tips on Writing

1.  Hobnobbing with other writers will not make you a writer.  And don’t spend so much time thinking about writing and “getting organized” that you forget to write.

2.  Plenty of writers work all day and still manage to make time to write.  Fortunately, “a writer’s office is under his hat; he can take it with him” even when he’s at a different job.

3.  Blank on story ideas?  Don’t wait for them to appear.  Pick a subject, even if it doesn’t interest you, and start researching it.  You will find something about it that does grab you.  Or read the book of Proverbs in the Bible—it’s filled with hundreds of basic plots.

4.  Writers need uninterrupted think-time when developing a plot.  Stretch out on the couch, make your mind go blank, and focus on a story idea for an uninterrupted time. Afterward, your subconscious will continue to mull over your thoughts—and probably come up with something even better.  Do not regard these subconscious gifts lightly.

5.  No matter your outlining style, when you get stuck, written notes can renew your acquaintance with the storyline and get you back on track.

6.  All stories have four possible beginnings: narrative, dialogue, one character thinking, or one or more characters doing something.  All four have pros and cons.  Whichever you use, your reader has to quickly find a character to care about. 

7.  Good stories are not written, they are rewritten.

8.  Never forget that you won’t be a published writer this time next year unless you get busy on another book.

9.  Every writer faces periods of discouragement, waiting to reach the next level.  You plod along day after day at one level, with no sign of improvement or progress.  Then, one day you seem to have taken a step up to the next level.  So keep reaching forward. 

10.  Writers often stay young more successfully than other mortals do.  Perhaps it is because no person with a keen and lively interest in life can really grow old.      

Source: The Official PHYLLIS A. WHITNEY Website http://www.phyllisawhitney.com

I hope to incorporate Whitney’s wisdom into my own writing—and I look forward to staying young!

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Filed under Resources for Writers