>Networking helps; so does the dog

>A few weeks ago, I attended the monthly Nye Beach Writers series here in Newport, Oregon. Among the attendees was the editor of a local entertainment newspaper. I wrote one story for her 11 years ago when she was editor of another paper. A lot of things have changed since then for both of us. During intermission, she sought me out to tell me she had been reading and enjoying my Unleashed in Oregon blog. She recognized me from the picture on my blog. Nice, I thought. A few days later, I met her at the post office. She lives way up the coast, but she was on her way through my area, and there she was chasing me down in the parking lot. Why? To tell me she would love it if I wanted to write something for her. Her usual pay rate is low, but she’d increase it for me, she said. If I’m interested, all I need to do is pitch her some ideas. No formal query, just an e-mail or phone call.

I may or may not do it because the pay is still quite low, but that just goes to show you how doing things like attending writers’ events and putting out a blog can draw attention to your skills. In fact, many of my better freelance assignments have come through networking rather than the old query method. But don’t stop querying, especially if you aren’t likely to meet an editor at your small-town post office.
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A few readers have signed on for my bi-weekly submission challenge. I sent one thing out last week and pledge to do another this week.

Ooh, maybe two. My dog just walked in and gave me another article idea. No, he doesn’t speak English, but he has learned how to jump the fence, and I’m spending far too much time wandering the neighborhood calling, “Here Chico, come on, dude, I’ve got cookies, come on, boy,” etc. I just realized other dog owners probably have the same problem. Query time. Once you open the flood gates, they come pouring in.

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>When the Ideas Dry Up

>Some days, finding article ideas is like trying to put together dinner when you’ve run out of groceries. You might be able to make peanut butter and pickle sandwiches on stale hamburger buns, but you won’t find many takers. It happens to all of us; the larder is bare, and every idea that floats through your mind seems stupid. You could blow off work for the day. Sometimes relaxing the mind leads to new inspiration the next day. But what if the rent is due and you can’t afford to take time off?

That’s when it pays to have a regular newspaper gig, a publication for which you write every issue. If you’re lucky, the editor supplies you with ideas. All you have to do is set up the interviews, do the research and write the story. If you’re really lucky, the editor has already done some of the legwork and listed sources for you to contact, along with a loose outline of what she wants. Nirvana, and a check in the mail soon.

How do you get a regular newspaper gig? Decide whom you want to write for, study the newspaper until you know what gets published, then send an irresistible query. Write a good story, turn it in error-free and on time in the requested format. Then do it again until the editor says, hey, this is a good writer and starts calling you with assignments. It happens. I’ve done it, both as the writer and as the editor.

That’s one way. There are others.

Networking works. A former member of my writing group became editor of a community newspaper. Soon she was calling with assignments to write for their home and garden section. I never submitted a query. She kept me supplied with ideas. All I had to do was say yes. Likewise, I signed up for the job bank at a local writers’ organization, and an editor called me with an assignment. Soon I was getting assignments from him, too.

Finally, don’t overlook the classified section of papers that you read. Sometimes, you’ll find an ad for freelance writers. In two cases, I followed up on such ads and wound up writing monthly articles. For one of the papers, the editor and contacts I developed doing my stories supplied most of the ideas. With the other, alas, all of the ideas were mine, and I had a hard time coming up with subjects that fit the limited parameters of my assignment, but I always found something in time to meet my deadline.

How did I get the idea for this blog item? I didn’t have an idea. I sat out in the sun with the dogs, my most trusted advisors, and they told me to write about that.

Happy writing to one and all.