Archive for February, 2007

Message from the Managing Editor: The Art of Saving Acorns

sage.gifBy Sage Cohen

Squirrels have the system down pat: hunt; find; save; leave; return; find; eat. By hoarding the bounties of autumn, they prepare for the hardships of winter. This ritual ensures that there is enough to eat when food is naturally scarce. It is a ritual of survival.

Developing a brainstorming habit that follows this trajectory can provide writers with similar results. When our minds are alert to the acorns of inspiration––and we have a good system for saving those acorns––we can build up a surplus. This secret stash of great ideas can keep the pilot light of inspiration going and get us through even the harshest winters of creative dormancy.

I record my “acorns” on 3” x 5” index cards, which I have on and around me at all times. They’re in my purse, in my car, in my dog-walking shoulder bag, on my desk and next to my bed. That way, when inspiration strikes, I can get it down fast and then move on with whatever I’m doing. In this way, I’ve trained my mind that its creative ideas are welcome. And I’ve trained myself to put them to good use.

I enter the acorns into a document in my computer titled––you guessed it––“acorns.” It’s divided by categories: Blog topics, essay ideas, article headlines, poetry phrases, etc. This makes it easy for me to keep track of my ideas and find them when I need them. I have a friend who saves and categorizes her index cards themselves in a large recipe box. Kim Stafford, from whom I learned this fabulous acorn metaphor, carries a beautiful, hand-made notebook in his pocket at all times; he records his acorns there.

If you start experimenting with acorns, you’ll find a system of recording and retrieving your ideas that works for you. You may be surprised at how much inspiration your mind serves up once it knows that you’re paying attention.
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at

Shanghai vs. Beijing: Compare and Contrast

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Writing Adventures in Shanghai
By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Shanghai is a city surging toward modernity. Here, everything and everyone longs to be hip, shiny, new, cool, sexy, sultry, and western. The downtown architecture is post-post-post modern…almost Jetson-like with pink spires and jingly baubles decorating the skyline. The highways are clogged with Audis and Beemers, pronounced symbols of success. Right now, Shanghai is a petulant, hormonal teenager who wants desperately to be a grown-up but who doesn’t quite fit into her high-heels and bustier.

In November, I visited Beijing, China’s capital city, for the first time. I’ve been yearning for this visit because as I write more and more about my new home, I find that in order to describe it clearly to readers (many of whom have never been to China), I need something to which I can compare it. Comparisons (and contrasts) always help to clarify a subject on the page. Use them!

So off I went, and as soon as the plane touched down in Beijing, I began scribbling a list of the similarities and differences between it and Shanghai. By the end of the trip, the list looked something like this:

Shanghai – narrow streets; crazy driving; lots of unnecessary beeping of horns; oodles and oodles of bicycles; palm trees; wretched smog; chilly, damp winter weather; wet markets; knock-off markets; big hotels; a sense of urgency; contemporary

Beijing – wide tree-lined avenues; horrid traffic congestion but much less swerving and screeching to mad halts; minimal unnecessary beeping of horns (thank goodness!); oodles of bicycles; deciduous trees; wretched smog; cold, crisp winter air; wet markets; knock-off markets; enormous hotels; a feeling of stability; austere; historical

From here, I’ve got a long way to go in order to work all these similarities and differences into the essay that’s beginning to take shape in my head, but so far I have come to the conclusion that Beijing is Shanghai’s somewhat stern grandfather who is full of wonderful stories and history. By comparing and contrasting these two cities, I’ll be able to draw meaningful conclusions for readers, and hopefully, bring Shanghai to life.

Now try it yourself. Maybe you’ve been meaning to write about your maternal grandparents. If so, compare them to your paternal grandparents or perhaps to your spouse’s grandparents. Or maybe you’ve been assigned an article about the new baseball stadium in your town. If so, visit comparable stadiums in other towns to see what is the same and what sets the new one apart. As you work these comparisons and contrasts into your writing, your subject will start to pop.


Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is a writer and writing teacher living in Shanghai, China. Her first article about The Middle Kingdom will appear in Highlights for Children. In addition, her work has been published in The ELL Outlook, PortFolio, The Gettysburg Review, The Larcom Review, Permafrost, and Hair Trigger. As a teacher, Kristin has been inspiring and motivating students for the past thirteen years. Her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” explores the curiosities of life in China and garners the interest of readers all around the world. To learn more, visit “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse” at

The Copywriter’s Paycheck: Widening Your Horizons

Elizabeth ShortBy Elizabeth Short

Last month, you landed your first client—yourself—and wrote copy for your own brochure. Now let’s prepare for client number two by widening our horizons.

Getting Started Tip: Explore the Big Wide World of Copy
For inspired copywriters, work is everywhere. To find it, start by making a list of all the materials that need your services. Brochures and Web sites are obvious candidates. But what about newsletters, flyers, mailers, sales letters, and ads? Pick up marketing materials, in any form, wherever you find them and start a collection. Study the copy carefully. What tone does the writer use? What words show up repeatedly? Can you identify benefits? Who is the intended market? Learn from your copy collection and use it as a reminder that your words are in demand—everywhere!

Copywriting Tip #2: Write for Your Audience
The first rule of good copy is to write for your audience. Start by identifying exactly who that audience is. If you’re writing copy for knitting needles, don’t assume that only grandmothers will be reading. Instead, query your client directly about their market. Once it’s clear you’re actually writing for women between the ages of 25 and 95, use language that will appeal accordingly. Instead of describing the product’s sleek contours and cherry-red paint job (save that for the Porsche dealership) focus on a no-catch design and jewel-tone colors.

Elizabeth Short is a freelance copywriter and graphic designer with a passion for helping small businesses clarify and broadcast unique marketing messages. With a focus on websites and print materials, she brings together content + design in one easy, affordable package ( Check out her e-book, 7 Steps to Effective Web Content ( to learn the secrets of writing copy for the web.

The Green Writer: E, The Environmental Magazine

Susan W. ClarkBy Susan W. Clark

This month we focus on E: The Environmental Magazine, a bi-monthly magazine founded by publisher Doug Moss and Deborah Kamlani in 1989 to “inform and inspire individuals who have concerns about the environment and want to know what they can do to help bring about improvements.” Articles offer depth, complexity, and clarity enough to appeal to experts and general readers alike.

Recent features explored such topics as soil, the toxic legacy of Katrina, and how to recycle almost anything. The soil issue included features on the use of sewage sludge on farmland, an interview with a soil scientist, and a major article on soil issues.

I e-mailed the magazine to request writer’s guidelines. My e-mail was promptly answered by Managing Editor, Brita Belli, whose tone was welcoming. Belli said, “The magazine is very open to new writers…E-mailing is the best approach.” While the Editor, Jim Motavalli is listed in the masthead, it was only by e-mailing for writer’s guidelines that I found Belli’s name and discovered that both editors want to receive queries.

You’ll find important details about writing for various departments in their guidelines. For instance, the House and Home submissions preferred word count is 750. According to Belli, “…we get a lot more queries for our ‘Going Green’ travel section than we do for our ‘Money Matters’ section or even ‘House and Home.’”

With a rate of $.30 per word, this magazine is one of the better paying green publications. The often-repeated advice “get a sample copy” applies, of course, and do request the guidelines using If you have a subject that fits this publication, now is the time to query. They buy one hundred pieces each year so this is a large market and your E clip would look so nice.

Photographer, editor, and award-winning writer, Susan W. Clark is an ardent advocate for sustainability. The Utne Reader applauded her article “Sustainable Revolution” from In Good Tilth magazine as “world-changing.” She is a regular contributor to In Good Tilth and Touch the Soil. Her work has appeared in the Capitol Press, Portland Tribune, Small Farmer’s Journal, and Permaculture Activist. She edits Salt of the Earth, the quarterly journal of Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust. Her observations about living within our ecological means are posted at

Specialize Today, Branch Out Tomorrow

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101:

By Christina Katz

If you really wanted to, I’d be willing to bet that you could discover a writing specialty for yourself that is as natural to you as the entelechy of an acorn, which eventually unfurls itself into a mighty oak. Author Jean Houston first planted the idea of entelechy in my head (pun intended). And it’s a good metaphor for the process many writers experience in finding and following a specialty. Here’s why: finding a specialty can sound limiting, even myopic, until you realize that the many opportunities to “branch out” are ample and yet to come.

Once you understand how to stay on a single path, as a writer you can find your groove. That’s when constructive practices start to become habits. Still many creative-minded people have a natural aversion to any suggestion that smacks of redundancy or repetition or—to steal another phrase from Jean Houston—that smacks of “serial monotony.”

But if you don’t specialize, it’s harder to get your writing career off the ground and up into the sky. Why? Because a specialist concentrates his or her writing efforts on filling a specific niche, or targets a particular market, such as writing for pet, health, or parenting publications. For example, if you are a gardener and you write for gardening publications, garden writing can become a specialty for you. As you go along, you might find more opportunities within this niche like writing profiles, personal essays, articles, fillers or collections of tips. You may amass a goodly amount of clips until you have enough material generated to propose a book idea. The topic of every book you write becomes another specialty to add to your repertoire.

Or perhaps your career is further along—not an acorn but a sprout, a sapling, or even a tree with sprawling roots—in this case, you may find that narrowing your focus on a specialty can expand the career you already have at a faster clip than if you do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. By finding your rhythm, your groove, your whatever works, you’ll reduce the amount of preparation and research you conduct each time you approach your work. So whether you’re zeroing in on one genre (poetry, fiction or non-fiction) or one type of market to write for repeatedly, you’ll begin to notice a subtle increase in momentum. You will feel it, even if it is not apparent to anyone else– an awareness that you are on the right track.

If you don’t immediately strike upon a path that feels integrated with your natural rhythms, don’t worry! You’ll hone in on one eventually. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have your specialty all figured out from the start; you simply need to become willing to take a step or two in the direction of an inner calling. And then hang in there; even when the going feels right, things may get bumpy as you write your way down the road. Growth is, generally speaking, messy. Abandon any ideals of perfection and the ride will be much more enjoyable.

When uncertain about how to specialize, take a step in an alluring direction and see how it pans out. Once you get busy, you may be amazed at how quickly opportunities for growth and publication rush in to meet you halfway. Branch out in your mind. Loosen your vice-grip on the way you think everything should unfold for your writing career. Your process knows what to do; your job is not to steer the course too rigidly, but to dare to venture out into thin air. You will learn to trust the thickening solidity of your career as you drive your roots down deeper to sustain your reach. Like the tree, you can’t go higher unless you root deeper.

Here are a few books that can help you develop a specialty that suits you:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Tarcher/Putnam 1992) explores multiple art forms to find inner direction.

A Life in the Arts by Eric Maisel (Tarcher/Putnam 1992) describes in workbook form how to integrate your personality with a workable writing career.

Ready, Aim, Specialize by Kelly James-Enger (The Writer Books 2003) helps non-fiction writers choose a profitable direction.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at

What Would MacGyver Do: True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life Edited by Brendan Vaughan

Cathy Belben

Good Reads for Writers

Reviewed By Cathy Belben
A short list of things I have not done: destroyed a laser using binoculars and cigarettes, plugged a sulfuric acid leak with chocolate, converted an umbrella into a grappling hook, built a bomb out of toothpaste. My greatest act of improvised genius? Devising a better way to empty the cat box.

Even if you weren’t a fan of the ’80s TV show MacGyver, whose main character was notorious for his ingenious solutions and incredible escapes, you’ll enjoy the essay collection What Would MacGyver Do: True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life edited by Brendan Vaughan. Writers describe scenarios in which their creative problem-solving has allowed them to do everything from cleaning the gutters to stopping an asthma attack.

Except for a couple of cameos by better-known writers (Esquire’s Chuck Klosterman, for example), most of the contributors are regular folks who had a good idea and a fun story to tell. Besides learning some novel strategies for situations like using Chex Mix for car traction in the snow, I was also inspired by the idea of writing about unique solutions to problems, and I think other writers will be, too. As you read What Would MacGyver Do,consider writing about your own life and the unique, creative ways you’ve solved problems or escaped from uncomfortable situations—you’re almost certain to come up with a fun writing topic.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Conference Confab (February)



Pamela KimLearn, Connect and Pitch with Industry Experts

By Pamela Kim
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) Writers Conference
April 20-22, 2007

The nation’s leading organization of independent non-fiction writers hosts its annual conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York this spring. Whether you’re new to freelancing or a long-time pro, the ASJA conference provides inspiration, ideas and information that will help you take your non-fiction writing to the next level. You’ll learn from the experts about “Making a Best Seller,” “Shelter Magazines,” “Earn 6-figures freelancing” and more. And get insider insight on how to crack new and better-paying markets. Members’ day is April 20; the event opens to all interested writers April 21-22.

Pikes Peak Writers Conference

April 20-22, 2007

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, the 2007 Pikes Peak Writers Conference promises to be a jam-packed expedition into the world of commercial fiction writing. Over 40 workshops, pitch appointments, agent roundtables, manuscript evaluations, and editor read and critique sessions are included in the line-up of writer-focused events. You can find out how to “Market Your Way to the Top,” “Craft a Powerful Book Proposal,” and get the inside scoop about “Interactive Crime Scene Investigation,” – plus learn what publishers are looking for now. Hosted by the Wyndham Hotel in scenic Colorado Sprints, conference faculty and speakers include authors, agents and editors.


Las Vegas Writer’s Conference

April 19-22, 2007


Spend four days in Las Vegas with writing professionals, agents, industry experts and colleagues. More than 65 workshops and seminars will take you through writing in many genres including fiction, creative non-fiction, screenwriting, poetry, journalism and business and technical writing. Q&A panels give you the opportunity to ask the experts all your questions. Registration is limited to 100 attendees to give everyone plenty of one-on-one time with the faculty (during formal pitch sessions as well as casual discussions throughout the conference).
Writer mama Pamela Kim writes non-fiction articles about kids, single mommyhood and the joy of organizing the stuff of life. She leverages eighteen years of experience as a corporate communications consultant to connect readers with the information they need and want. When not traveling the conference circuit – each year finds Pam at writing, blogging and health conferences – she lives in Northern California with the fabulous Katie Kim who is six. Her home online is

Writing Conference Success: Agents and Editors—The People You’ll Meet

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

I got lucky at my first writers’ conference when I gave my business card to the president of the writers’ association. I told her that in a former life I was a training and development professional, and I would be happy to assist with their conference program. She thanked me and we parted ways. Two months later she phoned, asking me to interview for a conference committee position. The rest is history. Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Let’s prepare for your first conference by profiling a few of the players. I’ll start with the biggies:

Literary Agents
Literary Agents attend conferences to find talented writers like you. Their job is to represent your work to publishing companies who buy what you write. Agents are like matchmakers: They find your publishing soul mate. Once discovered, the agent will negotiate on your behalf to make sure your new partner doesn’t take advantage of you. (Just like a new relationship, you might be too smitten to think objectively.) The best agents are affiliated with The Association of Authors’ Representatives, or at least adhere to their canon of ethics. Typically, conferences invite agents based on their past book sales, reputation, willingness to work with new writers, and contribution to the writing community at-large. Conferences will also try to find a good mix of fiction, non-fiction, and children/YA agents. Your job is to find the agents who sell what you write.

Depending on where you are in the publishing process, you might work with any number of editors: acquisitions editor, copy editor, or line editor, to name a few. You’ll most likely meet an Acquisitions Editor at a writers’ conference. They seek out viable manuscripts for publication on behalf of their company. Most large publishing houses will not accept unagented submissions, so it’s a coup when you can pitch directly to these people at a conference. If they like what you pitch, you can always secure an agent later to help you negotiate a contract. Your job is to find the editor who represents the imprint that publishes what you write.
An imprint usually groups books by genre or writing style. For example, Riverhead is an imprint of Penguin/Putnam. Its website states: Riverhead’s goal is to publish quality books in hardcover and then in trade paperback—both fiction and non-fiction, including significant religious and spiritual titles—that would open readers up to new ideas and points of view. Look at the imprint’s booklist and try to imagine your book alongside them. Does it fit? If so, pitch to this editor.

This Month’s Action Steps
To learn more about an agent or editor beyond what is written in the conference brochure, check out their Web site, Google their name and find them in Writers Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. These reference guides can be found at your local library.

What NOT To Do
Don’t pass up an opportunity to pitch to a small/boutique agency. They may be smaller, but they’ll usually give you more attention. Don’t accept an agent’s offer to read your work for a fee. This is a no-no. Don’t confuse an agent’s reading fees with copying and postage expenses. The latter is considered a legitimate business practice, although I personally don’t like it. (Hey, I don’t charge my business expenses to somebody else, why should they?)

Fair Warning
Be a teeny bit leery of Editors-at-Large. Although they independently acquire manuscripts on behalf of publishing houses, they supplement their income by selling their editorial services. More often than not, they’ll try to sell you their editorial services instead of taking your work to publishers. Purchasing editorial services is a good idea in general, but if you’re going to spend money to pitch to someone at a conference, be the seller—not the buyer—in that transaction.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (

Learn the Secret Language of Editors: What “Send me your clips” means to you

Abigail GreenFreelancers’ Phrase Book
By Abigail Green

“Send me your clips.”

It’s a good sign when an editor asks for samples of your writing. It usually means he’s interested and wants proof of your skills before offering you an assignment. In the publishing world, “clips” are short for “clippings.” Of course, these days clips are more likely to be PDFs than snippets of newsprint, but we’ll get to that. Here are some common questions about clips.

Q: Which clips should I send?

A: The general rule is to send three to five clips no more than five years old. I say, send a couple of your best, most relevant clips and don’t worry about how old they are. Of course, if your best clip is from 1995, include some more recent ones as well. It really doesn’t matter how many clips you send, but keep in mind that most editors won’t comb through a huge pile of paper.

Q: How should I send them?

A: Defer to the editor. Don’t email her PDF files unless she invites you to. If you can send her a link to your Web site where she can download them herself, that’s ideal. If you only have hard copies of your clips, mail them. (Faxes may smear or be illegible.) Spring for overnight mail if the editor’s in a hurry. And while color copies are nice—especially if there are photos or art accompanying your article—clean, black-and-white photocopies are fine. Never send the originals, since you may not get them back.

Q: Do I need to wait for an invitation to send clips?

A: No. If you’re sending an unsolicited query by mail, by all means include some clips. However, photocopies (and postage) aren’t cheap, so I usually mention some publications I’ve written for and offer to provide clips upon request. In email queries, links to online clips are fine, but again—don’t send unsolicited attachments.

Q: What if I don’t have any clips?

A: Have you written an article for your church newsletter? Had an op-ed run in your local paper? Published an essay in your alumni magazine? Those count as clips. If you really don’t have anything that qualifies as a published writing sample, offer to write a few things for free so you can get some clips.

One last tip: I make regular trips to Staples to photocopy my latest clips before they get lost in the recycling bin. Then I file them so they’re easily accessible when an editor says those magic words.

Abigail Green ( is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 10 years, she has written about health, travel, weddings, business, education and more for national, regional and online publications including AOL, AAA World, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. Her latest project is raising her first child, which she chronicles in her blog:

Cheers & Applause (Roars!)

SUSAN “USHA” DERMOND’s book, Calm And Compassionate Children, A Handbook will be published by Celestial Arts, a Division of Ten Speed Press in March 2007.

KELLY HUFFMAN reviewed the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Edward Albee’s “The Lady From Dubuque” for the website Weekdays, she writes boatloads of business stories for Recreational Equipment, Incorporated (REI), where she now works in internal communications.

CLAIRE MICHAELS WHEELER’S book, 10 Simple Solutions to Stress: How to Tame Tension and Enjoy Your Life is coming to bookstores in mid-February (New Harbinger).

LAURAL RINGLER learned about planet flybys and cultural star lore for
“Stargazing Plus at the Western Washington University Planetarium” published in the February issue of Entertainment News Northwest.

JOANNA NESBIT’s article, “Renaissance Celebration Features Local Glass Artists,” appeared in the February issue of Entertainment News Northwest.

Success happens in clusters, writers! Keep the announcements coming and keep inspiring us! 

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February 2007

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