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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Writing an important story

Had an epiphany today. Well, maybe epiphany is too strong a word. Let's just call it an awakening to the obvious, a "D'oh!" moment, if you will.

For the past three weeks I've been taking an online class to help with my query writing. I was hesitant at first. After all, it's not as if I've never written or had queries accepted. But as a lifelong learner—and on the recommendation of several writers whom I admire—I decided to make the investment of money and time. Plus, this class promised it wasn't for newbies, only serious writers need apply.

Due to a hectic travel schedule the past couple of weeks, I'm a little behind in my workload. Before I began, I started to look through some of the other 12 writers' ideas and queries. Some were very good, very trendy and definitely saleable. Others were headed in the right direction, just needing some tightening of focus or more research. Still others did little to interest me, though I'm sure with the many valuable suggestions given those, too, will become potential articles in national magazines.

I had four ideas I'm working on, though I've already scratched one from the list. But as I worked up my story nuggets (for they are not yet in query format) I realized that the traditional fare of women's magazines and parenting magazines left me uninspired. I could write for them, of this I'm certain, but I'm not inspired to write those kinds of stories. You know … disease of the week, things that will ruin your children for life, 50 ways to clean your house or 101 ways to simplify your life, etc. Not that I don't read these from time to time, they just don't move me to hurry up and pitch.

My interest is in serious journalism with an investigative/public service bent. That's why I've been so slow to pitch. I have a lot of regular work assignments that help to pay the bills right now, which is both a good and bad thing. Good for obvious reasons, but bad because I need to keep pushing my writing to nourish my creativity.

Here's the rub: The kind of stories I want to pursue require time, research and, in some cases, money to travel. As I lamented to Jill this morning, these stories are so involved and unwieldy and in need of refining and focus that can only be accomplished through more research that I'm stymied to the point of inaction. Not good.

Fortunately, the course is helping. I've thrown some broad ideas out that the group has responded to enthusiastically, offering some great suggestions and possible markets for the work. It's definitely worth the money. With three topics, I think I can manage to get some solid queries together on these serious subjects. One may have to wait because it involves getting the participation of a minor who is central to the story. But the other two are beginning to take shape in my brain.

As I sit here tonight, contemplating the fruits of my day's labor, I'm surprisingly optimistic that I can make this happen. I'm motivated to make this happen. It will likely involve extra hours in the evening and weekends, just as some of the research required tonight. But if I can land that first serious news assignment, covering that important story that needs to be told, I'll be on my way toward the writing career of which I dreamt.

"What are you working on, Mom?" Patrick asked tonight. I told him the first story I'm interested in pitching.

"Mom, that's a great story. You have to write it. Other people have to know about this," he responded.

He's right. It is important and I'm the person who can tell it best. How's that for newfound confidence?!


Kelly Boyer Sagert said...

I may be reading between the lines, but it seems as though you and I share a similar trait: wanting to do so much and needing to decide what comes first.

I want to write about history, especially Civil War history and that affecting women. I want to write about boomerangs and baseball. I want to write about writing.

In my case, multiple interests . . .

Wendy Hoke said...

And so it does.

Multiple interests is a sometimes terrible affliction. That's why I'm committed to at least these first two pieces and we'll see where it goes from there.

In a perfect world, I'd find a way to balance doing serious journalism with some lighter fluff.

Jill said...

I'm very proud of you for how you forge ahead. There's lots of wind behind you. :)

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, pal. You know my stumbling points better than most. Thanks for being a sounding board earlier today.

Let's seriously plan for a brainstorming session in June. :)

Lori said...

Go, Wendy! If anyone can do it, it's you.

Greta Garbo said...

Hi Wendy--

It's 11:50 at night, and I really should be sleeping, but I can't, so I'm responding to this blog post--in other words, I may be incoherent. I know little--virtually nothing--about the art of querying, and would love to either hear more about the topic or be pointed in the right direction. I've just found a writer's group here in MI that seems promising, and was just recently wondering if I should submit a query letter as my next submission instead of "a piece of writing."

All this may make no sense. I'm 28 weeks pregnant and can't sleep because, of course, my mind feels like worrying (currently about money.) My mind should know better, shut up, and let me sleep.

Wendy Hoke said...

Hi Greta!

First, congrats on the pregnancy! I'll put up a post on querying based on a talk I give to writing groups. If you have any specific questions, you know where to find me. :) I'm happy to help.