I’ve got a treat for you guys today. Yesterday for the Writer’s Digest October Platform Challenge, we were given the challenge to pitch a guest blog. Through connections made earlier in the Challenge, Mrs. Margaret Cutter Tesch and I agreed to exchange guest posts. Thank you, Marge!
Write What You Know
by Margaret Cutter Tesch
Several lifetimes ago, this dinosaur was a naive recent college graduate, and a “wanna-be” free-lance writer in search of that elusive first by-line. The advice given me by those who had paid their dues was, “Write what you know.” I was young; I knew nothing and thought I knew everything.
I was busy submitting articles to Reader’s Digest and the Saturday Evening Post. My mother was pushing me to write for McCall’s, Redbook and Ladies Home Journal. I collected enough rejection slips to wallpaper a good sized mansion.
Then, I read an editorial in an equestrian magazine that I vehemently disagreed with. I typed up a six-page letter to the editor, tearing his editorial apart, point by point. A few weeks later, I received my letter back in the mail. It looked like a frustrated teacher had worked it over.
Red-inked in the margins, all in capital letters, were comments like “NICE” and “GREAT SENTENCE” – not at all what I was expecting! The editor loved it! He told me he was sorry it had arrived too late for use in the letters column. He said, “It is extremely well written.”
Bingo! I had written what I knew. I was a horse owner, with a great deal of experience on the subject of the editorial – pleasure riders. Since the editor thought my letter was so well written, I immediately put on my thinking cap. Within the week, I queried him about some potential articles I felt would be a great fit for his magazine. He invited me to send him some, and a few months later, I finally had my first professional by-line. I ended up selling about a half-dozen articles to that magazine, and that opened up other markets for me as well. For many years, I provided articles to local, regional and national publications, almost exclusively on equine related subjects.
Then I tried my hand at magazine fiction. This time I followed the advice without hesitation. I wrote what I knew. At the time, I was working in a pet store that specialized in birds – everything from parrots and toucans to parakeets and finches. I became familiar with all things relating to pet birds. My story, a short romance, featured a man who wanted to purchase a companion bird for his niece. I sold it to the first magazine I tried!
Now, I am writing a series of Young Adult Fantasy novels. They have not yet been published, but I have no doubt they will be. They will because, again, I am following the advice. I am writing what I know. No, I don’t have first-hand experience with dragons and sorcerers. But one of my main characters has a beloved palomino pony, whose physical description and personality is strongly based on my first pony. And another character knows a great deal about birds. I have interwoven details from what I know into the story. It gives more dimension to the characters and to the story, and it is easy for me to add these very realistic details.
So, if you are still looking for that first elusive by-line, or, like me, you yearn for that first publishing contract for a book, ask yourself. Did you write what you know?
Marge Cutter (Margaret Cutter Tesch) is a former horse owner and equine journalist, an aspiring author, an amateur photographer, a bird watcher, and a self-admitted dinosaur. You can find her blog at margecutter.wordpress.com, and you can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.