Every essay that is a story from our past, whether it happened last week or fifty years ago is a memoir.
But in order for it to be a publishable essay it has to resonate with the reader. You have to have learned something from it . You have to have changed because of the incident. You need to be able to show that what you thought before this happened, is not the same as what you thought after the incident
Some people have no problem recalling relevant stories from their past and have no difficulty turning the funny incident that happened last week into a story that will sell to one of the many publications and websites that publish essays.
But what if you do find it difficult to remember those priceless memories?
What if the only memories you can dredge up are those of nothing-ever-happens-to-me schooldays or the same-as-everybody-else college years.
Here are a few tricks to get that old memory back into working order.
Unearth some old photo albums. Look at photos of your childhood, your birthday parties, school photos ( search out your old friends on them) school outings.
Check out college / seminar photos, pics taken on vacation, photos of your previous homes both childhood and apartments you rented as a single or previous homes since you’ve been married.
Go even further back and ask your parents or grandparents if you can go through their family albums. Yo may find photos of relatives you never knew existed . Ask about them while you have a chance.
If all your photos are digital, set your computer to ‘view all’ or whatever it is on your program and sit back with a pen and notebook and watch them all slowly, making notes of memories they dredge up.
GO BACK AND VISIT IMPORTANT PLACES
If you are able to, go back to the place where you were born, where you grew up, walk around your old schools and colleges. You’d be surprised how the memories come flooding back.
DON’T COMPARE MEMORIES
Although it’s good fun to go over old times with friends your memories are your very own and may not match up with others at all. Everyone experiences things differently, sees events through different lenses and consequently remembers them differently and different aspects of events stick in their memories.
If you need to check up on certain verifiable facts such as dates and places then do so, but let your memory of the event shine through your memoir or essay.
HOW TO TURN A MEMORY INTO A MEMOIR ESSAY
To make your memory into a publishable essay it needs to leave the reader with some message, you need to make your memory universal in its message.
Perhaps an unhappy memory about school taught you to be more sensitive to your children.
But your memory doesn’t have to be unhappy or even traumatic to be essay worthy.
A happy memory baking with your grandmother made you understand the importance of keeping family traditions and ensuring your children remain in touch with all their relatives.
Once you have found a universal message, remember to use all five senses when writing – sight,smell,touch,hearing and taste with lots of details to bring the story alive.
Then check your intended publication/website’s guidelines and make sure your essay fits in with their requirements – and when you’re sure it’s the best you can make it ….
Writing well is always important – but it’s no use writing a great article/essay and then submitting it at the wrong time, almost guaranteeing rejection.
Timing your submissions can be extremely important
Here’s how to ensure you don’t ruin your chances before your submission has even been read.
1. Let’s say it’s a week before Pesach and you’re knee deep in cleaning. Suddenly you have this great idea for streamlining the whole process and getting it done in record time. So you happily take a break from cleaning, sit down at your computer and run off a terrific article. You’re about to click send…
If you’re in middle of preparations for an event it’s almost always too late to submit an article about it for this year. Write the article- or at least make extensive notes – and file it under ‘submit next year two months before Pesach’
2. You read an article which you totally disagree with and race to your computer to run off your rebuttal article.
Publications almost never print rebuttal articles. People who disagree with an article write a ‘letter to the editor’ and they are printed there . No fee is paid of course for these letters.
If it’s an article connected to a specific event/ time of year/ anniversary then write away …… and file it for sending next year , two months before the date.
3. It’s two weeks before a famous person’s yahrzeit , anniversary of their death, and you’ve just had this great idea for an article to write. You know it’s very short notice but this new insight and information is so amazing that you’re sure they’ll want to print it.
Check – did you put VERY TIME SENSITIVE in the subject line.If you didn’t it’s quite possible that it wont even be looked at in time
4. You’re busy writing various articles about Purim. One on kids dressing up outfits, one on mishloach manot, a great one for the seudah menu. Exhausted and happy at having got them all done in time, you click send on the final one just after Tu B’shvat …… and sit back and relax.
well I really mean’t don’t stop
No time to relax now – it’s time to start on your Pesach queries/ submissions. Pesach and Sukkot are peak times at Jewish publications. Extra large issues are published which need a lot of material – but they need it early as it requires a lot of planning to get these super large issues out.
5. Shavuot is over but you have a great idea for an article about Sefirat HaOmer ( The counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot). You’re scared that you’ll forget about it by next year, so, full of enthusiasm you write this great piece and decide you’ll leave it to the editor to accept and file away away for next year. You’re about to click send…
It’s possible the editor will laugh at your bad timing. That’s not the reaction you want. Wait another eight months and then send it.
If you have ever done this and were fortunate enough to receive an acceptance, then be aware that it’s likely to get lost during the next eight months until it’ll be of immediate interest to the editor. You need to be the one to remind her nearer the time (politely of course) that she has accepted your article.
REMEMBER TIMING IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF MARKETING YOUR WRITING.
If you live in Israel, as I do, every few years events occur which beg to be written about- NOW.
Often it’s to show the outside world the truth of what is really happening here.
Most of the world’s media give a totally distorted picture of events in Israel
Sometimes it’s to show friends and family what life here is really like under pressure.
But events on the ground change fast and yesterday’s terror attacks are old news today and almost irrelevant tomorrow.
If you want to write about the ‘situation’ and get it published your story will be VERY TIME SENSITIVE, and its up to you to make the editor realize this.
This applies to anyone writing about a timely current situation anywhere in the world.
8 Ways to get your very time sensitive story published
1. Find a new/ different angle to the events.
Without minimizing the fear every mother has when she sends her children off to school every morning, and I’ve been through it many times, it has been written about frequently. If you want to help show what it’s like to live under the constant threat of terror and have it published you’re going to have to find a different angle, one that hasn’t been written about before.
Maybe interview a teacher who has to explain to little children why the school is under lock down when a terror attack has occurred nearby and security forces aren’t sure f there is another terrorist at large.
Perhaps speak to business owners in downtown Jerusalem who see a 60% decrease in customers.
Find out from shops which sell guns how much their business has increased.
Stick to one particular point / angle. Don’t try and cover the whole situation in one article.
If you are writing an essay about your own experience or fears or how your daily routine has changed, pick an aspect that hasn’t been written about. Remember you aren’t writing a news article. Make it personal, the more specific details you include the better your essay will be.
2. Write your piece
Don’t spend too long on the writing – not that the writing should be second rate but you want to get this sent off as soon as possible. Sit down and write it from beginning to end. Read it through out loud. Does it flow? Does it sound like you’re talking to a friend? When you read it out loud you’ll notice awkward sentences, sentences that are too long and words you are repeating too often. If you stumble over a sentence when you’re reading it so will your readers – rewrite it.
If you are writing for a regular newspaper your style is likely to be different to when you write for a Jewish/ religious publication
3.Leave it for an hour.
Go back and edit it again. Proof read for grammar and spelling and read it out loud once more.
4. Send it to a writer friend
You don’t have time to wait a day or two and get some objective distance . But if someone else reads it they are likely to notice errors you missed. They can also check that it flows well and is logical.
5. Submit it
It’s probably no use sending to a monthly magazine. Some weeklies may take it but if they are in the shops on Friday then they probably go to press on about Tuesday so make sure to send your piece by Monday.
Daily publications are usually the best for these kind of articles.
6.Write VERY TIME SENSITIVE in the subject line.
Your essay may be considered an op-ed ( opinion piece) in which case it’s possible that you wont’ be paid. If receiving pay is important to you then make it clear in your covering letter by asking what their rate of pay is. Many professional writers who usually write for pay are willing to forgo the pay when they have something they really want ‘ the world’ to understand.
In your cover email, write that if you haven’t heard from the editor within 48 hours you will assume he is not interested and feel free to submit elsewhere.
If you decide to submit to several publications at the same time then put SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSION quite clearly in your letter.
Some publications may not look at it as they aren’t prepared to participate in a race, but most understand the need for a fast decision with these articles.
8 Where to send it
This site contains the contact information and guidelines for many newspapers which take op-eds. However be aware that the information is over 7 years old so contact details cannot be assumed to be correct today, you will need to check it out.
However there are a lot of helpful and instructive tips regarding writing about current situations that is worth reading.
At best you could write articles, stories and pitches – but if you’re staring blankly at a blank page, then describe yesterday’s breakfast / the contents of your closet / an email to a friend – anything to get the writing going.
Aim not to stop until you’ve written at least 250 words and preferably 500-1000
How do you improve it even more?
Articles, stories, books, newspapers, Especially things in your genre, but also anything else that’s good writing as well.
Read as a writer. Analyze why the writing resonates with you, why it sounds so good. Remember all the things you learned about and see how it measures up. Does the author show and not tell / use dialogue appropriately / keep the suspense up but not confuse or disappoint you.
Look at the opening and ending. What technique is the writer using.
How do you improve it even more?
By taking appropriate writing courses… regularly.
With the aid of a good teacher and critique your writing will continue to grow and improve even after you’re already being published.
Try a new genre or if you’re happy with the type of writing you’re doing then take a course with another teacher.
Even though I write and teach writing, I still take courses regularly and learn and gain from each one.
Before you hit ‘send’ on your latest essay do 8 final checks.
1. Read it out aloud.
Read it out aloud slowly and check if you’ve overused a word. See if you have to hold your breath because the sentence is too long, or if anything just plain sounds odd.
2. Delete every ‘really’ or ‘very’.
Delete most adverbs, but ‘really’ and ‘very’ are the worst. Choose better adjectives and verbs rather than use ‘really or ‘very’.
He walked really slowly = he dawdled She ate very fast = she gobbled her food.
3. Does your piece open with a hook?
Does your opening hook make it impossible for the editor/ reader to stop reading because they have to know what’s going to happen.
4. Is your essay written in a friendly conversational voice?
Have you written it as though you’re telling a friend about the incident. Personal essays aren’t the place for fancy stilted language that you wouldn’t use every day.
5. Is there a universal theme to your essay?
Is there a take-away message for every reader? Something fascinating that happened to you is only of interest to others if they can identify with you.
6. Have you included plenty of details?
Did you ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ what happened? Did you use your five senses to show clearly / how you felt, saw and heard / what it looked,tasted and smelled like ? Don’t write As I entered the house there was a delicious smell of baking……. but rather I could smell the sticky cinnamon buns from the next street, together with the aroma of fresh brewing coffee. I knew I’d be staying awhile.
7. Does your ending round things off?
Bring the incident full circle. Maybe repeat something you said at the beginning. If there’s a message then don’t tell it blatantly to the readers. They aren’t stupid. If they haven’t got the message then you haven’t written the essay well enough.
8.Sum up your message.
Sum up the message of your essay in one sentence. If you can’t it’s not focused enough.
Once you have found the sentence that sums it all up, make sure that every sentence you have written supports this message.
We all need some new or different markets to keep our creative juices flowing , otherwise the blank page, the most threatening aspect of a writer’s life, stares at us daring us to write something that is unmarketable.
One site that always inspires great stories is the Chicken Soup book site. Here they give a list of all the current titles they are working on and for which they are collecting stories. The variety of options is bound to spark some great ideas.
Check their deadlines carefully although none of them appear to have a immediate deadline looming.
Do you live and write somewhere other than your native country. If so you should take a look at the site Writers Abroad which, from May 1st will be collecting submissions for their next anthology entitled Kaleidoscope. The are looking for short stories, flash fiction or poetry connected to their broad theme of ‘light’.
The theme is open to interpretation: your light might dispel evil, or reveal something unexpected in the darkness; perhaps your character ‘sees the light’ in a revelation; or light may have an important role in your setting. Firelight can destroy or warm and illuminate; or you may be inspired by the difference in light in other countries. The anthology will be print published and later available as an e-book.
All the details and entry rules are on their website.
Essays of interest to women on any subject: essays, humor, satire, personal experience.
Every month has its own theme and the deadline is six weeks before i.e. the 15th of the previous month.
August’s theme is The Joy of Friendship with a deadline of June 15th
Ideas they give you to start your creative juices flowing are August- The Joy of Friendship Deadline 6/15/15 How did you meet your best friend? Does your best friend have four legs and fur? Why are our pets so important? Why did you adopt a shelter animal? Girls’ night out – one or two friends or a large group? Reconciliations with old friends Stories of childhood friends Social Media – have you heard from your high school boyfriend? Which friend makes you laugh the most?
To get a good idea of what they are looking for,read through their guidelines and submission procedures.
They are not your usual happily-ever-after- market.
They cover some difficult, painful parenting experiences.
Especially on the look out for humorous essays and essays about teens.
Now also welcomes flash fiction.
Do you know of other markets we can add to this list?
Freelance writing can be a very lonely business, just you ( or me) and our computers, so whenever I get the chance to meet up with other writers, I grab it.
Any kind of occasional get-together and swapping of ideas and experiences is good but if it’s possible I think all writers should treat themselves, once a year, to a writers’ conference.
What are the main elements you should look for that will make a conference a success for you?
a) Does it cover subjects/ genres that you write about already or want to learn about.
b) Are the magazines and publishers whose representatives are speaking at the conference the ones you are interested in writing for.
c) Will you get a chance to network with other writers, editors. and publishers.
d) Are the speakers successful, published experienced writers/ authors who have something specific to offer you in ideas, information and tips.
e) Will you get an opportunity to meet editors and publishers in your genre and have a one on one session with them. If so make sure you come prepared with ideas / pitches and a clear statement about what you write.
f)Are the workshop sessions practical and with a variety of choices.
g) Is the venue accessible, the price reasonable and is food provided or a reasonably priced restaurant nearby. If the conference is for more than one day are there reasonably priced hotels in the vicinity.
For women writers who live in Israel, the one-day Jerusalem Women Writers Seminar, which takes place soon after Pesach/ Passover every year is everything a writer’s conference should and could be.
This year there was an array of excellent keynote speakers, well-known in the world of Jewish writing, the chance to participate in two workshops from a choice of about fourteen, including self-publishing, editing, translating, interviewing and writing for teens – there was little missing from the list of criteria.
Everyone who applied in advance was given a private session with a publisher or editor and representatives from two magazines gave a run-down on what it takes to get published in their publications.
The writer’s cup pictured above was included in the collection of ‘goodies’ all participants were given.
What do you think makes a successful writer’s conference anywhere in the world?
Tell me in the comments section below.
You don’t have to travel far to be a ‘travel writer’. No need to pack your suitcase, buy an expensive airline ticket, update your passport or even spend money in duty free ……….
Travel writing’s for everyone
Wherever you live in the world, your hometown and its environs are going to interest readers somewhere. Either it will be of interest because they live nearby and want to find somewhere to visit locally, or because they live far away and your neighborhood is exotic to them.
Find a site – then go and visit.
Start by finding some local sites of historical, archaeological or natural interest.
You can start searching on the internet and ‘google’ but don’t stop there. Contact your local tourist board and then get out and visit these places. They can’t be far away. Take a notebook and camera and find out as much as you can, note down your impressions and take lots of photographs.
Don’t stop at one place of interest. Find another one. Often parks will be built around ancient city walls or with a monument of historical importance in the middle. And even if it’s not, the park itself might be of interest to visitors. Does it have somewhere for children to play? Is there a restaurant or cafe for hungry visitors? Is there a river running through it? Are there attractive flower beds with benches nearby for sitting and relaxing? Is it near a bus stop for those who might come from the other side of town.
Local Museums and all places of entertainment
Visit local museums, markets, shopping malls, restaurants and places of entertainment. A place doesn’t have to be old to be of interest. If a family is looking or somewhere to go they’ll need to please everyone of all ages.
Who will publish it?
Offer the article to your local newspaper as a round-up of places to visit in your locality, around vacation time. This is when readers are interested in ways of getting out and about without spending too much money, especially if they have school-aged children who need to be entertained for weeks on end.
Some newspapers have special travel inserts at various times of the year – check out if yours has.
If your editor grabs your article enthusiastically then venture a little further afield to the neighboring town and start again visiting local places of interest.
What about national travel magazines?
Many travel magazines have ‘front-of-the-book’ sections with short travel pieces about off-the-beaten-track areas. Maybe your town qualifies for one of these ‘shorts’, if it has some interesting sites that you don’t find everywhere.
Pitch a query for a short piece to the editor and who knows- maybe when he sees how much there is to see and do in your back yard he’ll request a longer article.
What other aspects of your hometown do you think it’s worth including in your article?
Have you ever written a local travel article? Did you get it published?
Let me know in the comments below.