3 Tricks for magazine writers: How to write on a theme and still make your deadline

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Before you start to type, you might want to try one of these 3 things.

One of my writing jobs is penning teen and tween stories for Jewish magazines. Before getting this gig, I had to learn an important lesson: most kids’ magazines select one theme per issue, and they are only open to stories on those themes. That means you have to write what they want, when they want it–but you’ve got to still tap into your creativity to make your story fresh, fun, and readable.

NOTE:¬†Writing contests (although many are scams, there are plenty of legit ones) and classroom assignments frequently require that submissions/assignments include a specific topic or theme and have a deadline, as well. You don’t have to write for magazines to benefit from these 3 tips.

Sometimes, I get the heads-up on what story the editor wants on what theme a month in advance. But sometimes it’s a lot less. How do I come up with a story on short notice?¬† Continue reading

My deep dark secret: Withdrawl from deadlines!

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Beth Firestone and I just wrapped up our serial, “To the Edge of the Galaxy” in Aim! Magazine. It was a great experience…I learned a lot about writing by working with Beth, as she is a novelist (previously, I’d only published standalone pieces of 1400 words or less) and has spent much more time formally studying writing. She filled me in about creating a story arc, building character development and generally kept my writing coherent and funny. It was also great helping kick off a new magazine and developing a readership with them. We got fan mail! It was amazing knowing that kids out there were reading our work and LIKED it.
What is also great about writing a serial is that you have deadlines. If you don’t meet them, there are real life consequences: angry editors, paychecks that don’t come, readers who no longer trust you. I busily wrote several nights a week for about 6 months to keep “To the Edge of the Galaxy” on schedule with the printer. Now I have no one breathing down my neck about writing…and I’m not getting much done.

I have no shortage of ideas and writing projects to work on. In fact I have today’s ideas and also the ideas I put off writing for the last 6 months because I was occupied with the serial. I think there are a few reasons for my lack of productivity:
1) No deadlines;
2) There are SO MANY ideas, and no editor telling me which one which one is a priority;
and
3) The lure of blogging.
Yes, blogging is taking over my writing life! I write this blog as well as another semi-private one, and I find that it is addictive. I’ve had to cut down to two nights a week (mostly). I LOVE checking the “Stats” and finding people are actually reading what I write! I love that I can’t get a rejection letter. I can write what I want the way I want to without being judged by a senior editor or the marketing department!
But until you get THOUSANDS of page views weekly, blogging isn’t a remunerative profession. And in the end, there’s still no story (with illustrations!) in a glossy (inter)nationally-circulated magazine or an actual book on an actual shelf in an actual bookstore that people can actually buy (which is actually a delightful experience).
I think I’ll be shutting down Google Chrome now and switching to Microsoft Word…

The secret to finding happiness: Using your talents

A few years ago, a group called Mishmeres HaShalom (now called Tiferes) sent out a DVD of Rabbi Noah Orlowek on the topic of Happiness. Happiness is a particularly apropos topic at this time of year. We’re now in Adar, and “When Adar enters, joy increases,” as the Sages said.

According to Rabbi Orlowek, people are happiest (animals, too) when they are fufilling that which they were created for. A person should 1) consider their talents and abilities, then 2) use them for the purposes of a mitzvah.
There’s a famous story (I think it appears in the the Gemara) of a gentleman who had a beautiful singing voice. When he would travel on pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year, he’d lead the prayer services. One year, he just didn’t feel like doing so. He was punished by G-d, since G-d had given him this magnificent voice for it to be used in Heavenly service.
When I heard the lecture by Rav Orlowek, I thought about my own talents. At the time, I’d sold a book (it hadn’t yet come out), but had no additional publishing success. I was frustrated about how much work I was doing–writing, researching, submitting–with little to show for it.
I decided to use my writing as a chessed. I sent goofy poetry to relatives. I prepared the newsletter for one of my son’s nursery school. I wrote an article for a local magazine about a community issue that needed attention. I began to think about my writing not just as a way to express myself or a way (I hoped) to make a little money, but as a responsibility.
Maybe we can all think about our talents and choose one thing we do well to bring assistance or joy to others.