I know one of the downsides of ordering books online is that you can’t open them and browse through them, so the next best thing is being able to see the Table of Contents and the first chapter or two. That’s what follows for From Spark to Flame: Fanning Your Passion & Ideas into Moneymaking Magazine Articles that Make a Difference.
The Writers Taffy Machine
Writing on Purpose with Passion and Play
The Spark of Passion-Filled Ideas
The Market: The Common Ground Between Passion and Ideas
Fanning the Spark: Developing Ideas
How to Sell Every Article You Write
Yes, No, and Handling the Big R (Rejection)
Delivering the Goods
Counting the Cash
The Power of Words to Create a Life On Purpose
Have you ever read a magazine article and thought to yourself, “Why, I could have written that article!” or, “I could have written a better article than that!” You’re probably right. I know I’ve read many articles that elicited similar thoughts.
You might be like a lot of aspiring writers I’ve talked to through the years who know they have the talent to be writers. Perhaps people have read something you wrote and told you how well it was written. Or maybe you simply have a deep yearning to see your thoughts, feelings, and ideas in print, along with your name. Or perhaps you’ve a deep desire to contribute to others through the written word, believing that indeed “the pen is mightier than the sword.” But, like many aspiring writers, you may not know how to turn your ideas into articles— especially articles that magazines will buy.
This book, like my workshop with the same name, is purely and simply about how to turn your ideas into moneymaking magazine articles, but with an added twist – magazine articles that make a difference in the world and allow you, the author, to express your purpose and passion. If you’re someone who would like to see your name as a byline for some of the thousands of articles that are written each year, this book is for you. You may want to do it as a paying hobby, you may just want to give it a shot to see if you can get one article published (although I’ll warn you, seeing your name in print can be addictive), or you may want to develop a career as a part-time or full-time freelance writer. Wherever you fit along that gradient, this book will detail how to go from being an aspiring writer to a published and profitable writer.
I’ve taught these concepts in a workshop setting to hundreds of aspiring writers through the years. At this point, if we were in my workshop, I would ask you to close your eyes for a brief guided visualization. So take a moment to read the following instructions, and then allow yourself to get into the experience.
The Magic of the Mail
Imagine you’ve already learned everything possible from this book, and you’ve applied the principles and followed the advice for the past six months. Over this half-year, you’ve become a “mail-watcher,” a sure sign you’re heading down the path of being a writer. The arrival of the mail has become a cherished moment, one filled with anticipation, but usually followed by disappointment.
Today, you take the mail from your box and rummage through the mound of circulars and bills, looking for that special envelope. But today is different from all of those other days because at the bottom of the pile is a letter you don’t recognize. You stare at it for a moment, unsure whether or not you’re seeing things or if that envelope you’ve been waiting for is really in your hands. Finally, with fingers trembling, you tear it open.
Take a few moments to imagine opening your mail and finding that special envelope addressed to you from one of the magazines you’ve contacted over the past six months. Then turn the page to see what’s inside…
In the twenty-plus years I’ve been writing and getting paid for my work, the thrill of receiving a check hasn’t diminished. Does that mean I write only for the money? Hardly! You’ll find that there are many, much easier ways to make a living—like practicing veterinary medicine, my first profession for more than fifteen years. I sold my practice to pursue my second dream career as a writer, speaker, and personal coach. I know of few occupations that are more fulfilling, satisfying, or fun than being a published writer. But I’m going to encourage you to become more than just a writer, more than just a freelance journalist. I’m going to encourage you to become a “Writer On Purpose.” In other words, why not use your gift of writing as a way to express your purpose in life, and in the process, write articles that contribute to and make a difference for others? So, if you’d like to experience the thrill of that first check, knowing that it represents a difference being made in the world, read on as we explore the magical profession, hobby, and pastime of being a Writer On Purpose.
This book is for “aspiring magazine writers.” That means it’s for people who yearn to write and publish what they write in national and regional magazines. While I won’t directly address writing for newspapers, much of the information is applicable. This book isn’t about getting your works of fiction published, although again, much of the information could be applied there as well. Our focus will be on nonfiction writing and how you can fan the sparks of your passion and ideas into moneymaking magazine articles that make a difference.
Before we begin, I think it would be valuable for you to know a little more about my own journey. As I’ve said, before becoming a writer, I was a veterinarian, with my own small-animal practice in High Point, North Carolina.
In 1984, I began hearing about a new computer called the Macintosh. Being an Apple computer enthusiast, I decided one Saturday to visit the local Apple store and check out this new toy. Twenty minutes later, thanks to a nice sales lady, I strolled out with my own Macintosh, a printer, and a new credit card with the entire purchase on the account.
My Macintosh was one of the first 1,000 machines off the assembly line, and only two programs were available for it —MacPaint and MacWrite. It didn’t take long for me to realize it’s next to impossible to draw anything useful with a mouse. Fun, yes. Useful, no. By Monday morning, with a good case of buyer’s remorse setting in, I became frantic to find some way to justify this irrational and spontaneous buying spree. Finally, I decided the Macintosh was a sign. After all, I had been telling myself for years that one day I would try my hand at writing. After glancing at the calendar and my charge card bill, I realized that one day had arrived.
I set about writing my first article, a short piece about the reasons for spaying your cat, which I promptly sent off to Purrrrr! (I remember to this day that the title of the magazine is spelled with five R’s), a newsletter for cat lovers published in Maine. A month or so later, I received my first check in the mail for $50. I was thrilled and delighted. Next, I wrote a long short story, “Dog’s Best Friend,” a science fiction story loosely taken from my experiences with the then new Parvovirus. I dashed it off to a small science fiction magazine for young adults, which promptly sent me back an acceptance.
Wow! I was batting two for two. My impression was that this writing thing was going to be a breeze. I started envisioning a life of leisure, sitting on the deck of my mountain hideaway, typing a couple hours each day on my next best seller.
“Dog’s Best Friend” gave me my first exposure to the difference between “paid on acceptance” and “paid on publication.” A magazine accepted my short story as “paid on publication,” which meant that, although they had accepted my story, I would not get paid until they printed it. After waiting eighteen months with no check, despite numerous letters reminding them of their promise, I grew impatient. By this time I had become a regular contributor to Purrrrr! They published all the articles I sent to them and paid me right away. So, I figured, I would just take “Dog’s Best Friend” back and get it published somewhere else, probably for more money than I had been offered. That’s what I did.
That was more than twenty years ago, and “Dog’s Best Friend” has yet to find its way into print. During the same time span, I also learned that the business of writing isn’t always quite as easy as those early beginner’s luck experiences suggested. At the same time, I’ve discovered a lot about what works and what doesn’t in the world of magazine publishing. This book is the essence of those experiences.
The Power Of Coaching
I believe one of the most powerful and effective ways to present what I’ve learned is through “coaching.” Therefore, consider me your writing coach. In each chapter, we’ll cover certain fundamentals of the game of “Writing Magazine Articles for Money.” My job, as your coach, is to improve your performance in this game. Your job is to accept the coaching that fits for you and apply it on the field of play.
If you read this book without following or trying any of the ideas or exercises, you’ll be wasting your time. The most effective coaching will result from your doing the assignments at the end of each chapter. The assignments are not only fun, but they’re designed to make you a published, paid writer. So if you’re serious about that, accept this first piece of coaching:
DO THE ASSIGNMENTS!
Now, let’s get started by looking at how to build the writer’s Taffy Machine.
Growing up, one of my favorite places to spend summer vacation was along the coast of North Carolina at Atlantic Beach, and one of my fondest memories is of watching the automatic taffy-pulling machine. Into one end of this magical machine the owner would pour the ingredients for making taffy that, of course, included a lot of sugar. He would then turn the machine on and after a few minutes, it would begin churning out multi-colored strands of taffy, ready to be boxed and sold to a line of salivating children, including me.
Because of that cherished memory, I now have upon my office wall what I call my “Writer’s Taffy Machine.” At one end I pour in the sweet blend of ideas and passion, while the other end churns out checks from magazine publishers. Between these two ends are all the steps we’ll cover in detail in this book.
By the time you finish reading, you’ll know how to build a writer’s taffy machine, and, if you accept the coaching and do the assignments, you’ll be well on your way to building one for yourself.
At this point, ask yourself a couple of important questions:
- Am I interested in building my own taffy machine?
- Will I do the necessary work to maintain my machine and have it churn out moneymaking magazine articles?
Take a few moments now and answer these questions for yourself. Then, get a notebook or journal to use in conjunction with this book and make your first entry a written statement of what you intend to accomplish from our working together through this book. Be as specific as possible. If you’re unsure whether or not you’re ready to commit to doing the work, that’s fair. Write that down. This is just a starting point, and you can always revise your intentions later. I encourage you to stretch beyond what you think you can accomplish. Remember, part of my job as your writing coach is to improve your performance beyond what you can accomplish on your own.
Now, let’s look at the components of a Writer’s Taffy Machine— the machine that turns your ideas into money. What are some of the steps between your sweet ideas and the even sweeter checks?
Blueprint for Building Your Taffy Machine
Every article starts with an idea. One of the question writers hear most from aspiring writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?” One of the most talented and prolific writers I’ve ever met, Harlan Ellison, would often facetiously answer such a question by replying, “Why, I buy them from a man in Poughkeepsie. Ten ideas for ten bucks.”
But even before asking the “where” question, I suggest looking more deeply at some “why” questions. Why are you writing? Even more important, why are you here? In Chapter 2 we’ll explore the vital importance of purpose for writers. While one purpose for writing is to make money, I’m going to suggest it’s simply not enough. After all, there are far easier ways to make money, and a lot more of it than most people ever make writing. Now, I’m not saying you can’t make a good living as a freelance writer. What I am saying that spending some time to become clear what your purpose is for writing and how it ties in with your greater life purpose will make all the difference in your writing, and in your life. In fact, a clear sense of purpose will act like a magnet that will attract to you the perfect ideas to develop into money making magazine articles.
Following most chapters are suggested ways to put what you’ve just learned into action in your writing life. It’s completely up to you as to how many of these suggestions you take. As your writing coach, I must tell you that the more suggestions you take, the more impact this book will have on your writing. These suggestions will work, if you work.
Ready to get started? To begin, we’ll examine how you can use the flint and metal of passion and ideas to ignite your sparks and get you on your way to writing powerful and entertaining magazine articles that sell.
Call to Action Assignment
Create your own Writer’s Taffy Machine, or its equivalent. You might decide that your ‘system’ will be a flower garden, with ideas being the seeds you’re planting. Or you could work with a stream metaphor, with the ideas being fish making their way from the small mountain pond down to the ocean (where they turn into checks). I recommend using a corkboard that’s at least 24 by 36 inches, displayed on a wall in the area you’ve designated for your writing. Use either the blank backs of old business cards, or cut 3 by 5 inch note cards in half or thirds. Use a new card for each new idea you find.
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