Monday is Labor Day. What does that mean, besides a long weekend, parades, lots of advertising circulars featuring barbecue grills, and thoughts about going back to school? What is this holiday for? What are we celebrating?
History.com says: “In 1894, Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday after a failed attempt to break up a railroad strike. Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers.” Visit History.com at http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day for the whole story.
That’s the official view. Personally, the only thing I’m celebrating this weekend is the departure of the tourists from our coastal town. I’ll be working.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, as with every holiday, it’s a source of ideas. If you read the information at the history.com website, working conditions in the pre-union era were awful for many people. Long hours, no safety precautions, children being put to work instead of going to school. What if you set a fictional story in a factory in 1880? For example, entire families worked in the cloth mills in Fall River, Massachusetts. What if you wrote about a mother and her child sent to work there? What might happen to them? What if the mother saw her son being mistreated and couldn’t do anything about it for fear of losing her job?
What kind of work situations have you experienced in your life? Have you designed microchips at a plant in Silicon Valley, sold shoes in Houston, or milked cows in Minnesota? Have you worked for terrible bosses who treated you badly or good ones you loved like family? What have you experienced on the job that could be turned into a story, either fictional or true? How have working conditions changed?
Spend some time observing somebody doing a job you’ve never done and write a poem or story about them. Or put on your reporter hat, do some research and write an article about some kind of work that interests you. You could even get a job completely out of your comfort zone, then write about it. Barbara Ehrenreich did that in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America She told the behind-the-scenes story of working at Wal-Mart and other low-pay, low-status jobs.
You see? I think “Labor Day” and suddenly I’m typing away. You can do it too. Start brainstorming. Holidays. Work. Jobs. Lunch breaks. On-the-job romances.
Your turn. Let me know what you come up with.
Now go write.
Fourth of July is over now, but if you pay attention, the holiday offers lots of writing possibilities. For some reason, some of the most dramatic days of my life happened on the Fourth. All could be turned into fiction, nonfiction or poetry. I’ll bet you have some Fourth of July memories, too, or just some lessons learned from the fireworks that got out of hand, the potato salad that went bad, or the barbecue that was the most fun you ever had. Maybe just watching the people at the public events stirred up some story ideas. Now, when the holiday is fresh in your head, is the time to put your Fourth of July thoughts into words and get them ready to send out well ahead of the deadlines to be published next summer.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
• My worst/best Fourth of July
• Ten ways to make your Fourth of July better
• Ten things I will never do again on the Fourth of July
• Ten tips for having fun with your children on the Fourth of July
• Fourth of July celebrations gone wrong.
• How fireworks have changed over the years.
• As the fireworks flashed and crackled, she swore she would not ______________
• He stared into the campfire and _________________________
• He watched the child run across the sand into the water and _____________________
• The dog raced across the sand, nose down, tracking a smell. In a minute, he smelled it, too.
• The thing that scared him the most _______________________________
• Oh no, she thought. Not again.
• In the middle of the fireworks, I suddenly _______________________________
• The old woman paraded down the street between the trained dogs and the marching band wearing a red, white and blue tank top and a pink tutu . . .
Now go write!
>It’s the holidays. What does that mean for freelancers?
It’s going to be difficult to reach anyone for assignments or interviews for the next two weeks. People are traveling, taking time off, or not willing to commit to anything right now. But if you are self-employed, no one’s paying you to take a two-week vacation. If you have a job, maybe somebody is paying you to take time off, and you can use this time to further your writing career. How?
Story ideas may be falling around you like snowflakes. Yes, it’s probably too late to submit them for this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gather them up to send in early next year. Allergic to the Christmas tree? Tired of holiday travel headaches? Just met the most amazing Santa Claus? Invented a good-tasting fruitcake? Are you involved in another tradition besides Christmas? Take notes, take pictures. The holidays come every year, and editors always struggle to come up with something new.
Consider submitting non-holiday stories of the sort that can run any time. In the biz, these are called evergreens (like Christmas trees, get it?). Although newspaper staffs work plenty of holidays, they do get extra time off, and those working at publications with longer lead times may get a week or two off. Meanwhile, the next deadline is coming, and the editor will need copy in a hurry. If you can supply the stories, you will be the hero. A few years ago, I submitted an op ed piece to the Oregonian about airport security. It ran on Dec. 26. They had a hole that my piece filled right there at the top of the page.
So study the markets, plan your stories and prepare queries so that when everyone comes back to work, you’re already three steps ahead.