Taking RIsks

Taking risks in my writing came fairly easily.  I was always pushing the boundaries of what I could accomplish.  My first big risk was querying another big publication, Mississippi’s leading lifestyle magazine, also based in the Jackson area.  I pitched an idea for a book review, leading to me (and other writers) establishing a running book review feature that lasted for several years.  I did other articles by assignment and that I came up with myself for them as well, giving me an entrée that led me into doing pieces for a glossy magazine in the Delta area of Mississippi as well.  My most enjoyable one for them was a story on the opening of the gardens of a famous author in Jackson, Eudora Welty, to the public.  Miss Welty had passed on and  willed her house to become a museum for the public.   I wrote a story about her gardens and what a prolific gardener she was, which garnered me one of my few “letters to the editor” complimenting me on the story.

Another risk I took was cold calling the editor of a suburban weekly when I heard talk that he was losing his food writer.  I called him up with just those words–“I heard you might be looking for a new food writer soon.”  He knew my work, having seen it in the parent paper for his weekly.  So he asked me to write a trial article.  The risk here is that I’m not really that much of a cook.  But I did know good cooks and knew how to get people to talk to me.  The trial article worked, and I not only wound up doing the food articles (which included a personal column every week) but also articles on faith and on homes and gardens.

One risk that didn’t work out was my attempt to write for a new paper in town that was unabashedly liberal in its politics.  I had decided to use a reverse strategy again here and become the house conservative, a thought that I believed the editor had embraced,.  I did one article for her.  She pounded me unmercifully for it once it came out, saying it was riddled with errors and poorly constructed.  I knew better.  So I never wrote for her paper again.

The biggest risk I ever took was breaking one of my personal cardinal rules.  I had resolved once I started that I would not cover politics or crime, being that I never wanted to place my children in an uncomfortable or dangerous position because of something I had written.  But I came up with an idea after reading an article about young people involved in politics.  The article concentrated on student activists and nonprofit groups.  I decided to write about young people with real power–elected officials, appointees, and other power players in Mississippi politics.  I approached it as a human interest feature, telling their personal stories about how they got involved in politics and what they wanted to accomplish.  I wrote about men and women, Democrats and Republicans, media types, elected officials, and executive office appointees.  That series of articles (and the risk I took) won me a Mississippi Press Association award for best planned series, weekly division.

Next time we’ll concentrate on what makes a good query letter and how to get an editor’s attention.

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4 thoughts on “Taking RIsks

  1. Wow! What an incredible experience you have had as a writer!! I love learning about all your risks and how you ventured into so many facets of literature. What a go getter you are!

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