How are we doing? OK? Not so OK? That's OK! This is all a series of ups and downs for me, too. Last week, I wound up in the ER for a non-COVID related emergency. No trip to the ER is fun, but especially not during a pandemic. So yes I've been exposed. I feel fine (from both the potential COVID and non-COVID stance), but I'm only going outside to walk the dog and sit in my yard until May 14, when my 14 days are up.
To funnel some of that nervousness into productivity, a new newsletter! This is a direct response to a tweet from Tim Herrera of the New York Times, who I have written for many times before. He's been organizing panels for freelancers on Sundays, where they can get advice on pitching from editors. He also asked freelancers how they get their ideas.
You can check out the replies, but also, here's a few from me, along with the articles they became.
Important note: I don't pitch much anymore. One of the joys of having been in this business for some time is that when editors come up with ideas they want to assign out, I'm on their list. One of my editors generates ideas for me by following me on Instagram (and in return, I send her ideas that I think would be better suited for another writer, and she's assigned some of those out too).
But good ideas still come my way on my own. Here's where these stories started:
The article: "Neighbors Not Practicing Social Distancing? Here's What to Do" for The New York Times
The idea: "What's bothering me?"
Because if it's bothering you, it's most likely bothering someone else too. I usually see if I'm the only one by looking at what people are complaining about on Twitter. I saw this topic everywhere. I floated the idea to an editor I have worked with many times before. Turns out, this was bothering her too.
The article: "Running to the Wedding. Any Wedding" for The New York Times
The idea: Tip from a friend.
I get tips for stories from friends and family all the time. Most of them are…well, not great. My grandmother, God rest her soul, kept wanting me write about recipes because she thought that would be neat even though I have no experience in recipe development. I've had to "hmmm mmmmm maybe" a lot of people who mean well but give me ideas that, for a lot of reasons, I can't sell. This idea, though, came from a friend who is an editor of a science publication. He's someone who gets pitches all the time and knows a story when he sees one, even if he can't use it, which is why he passed it onto me.
The article: "What Happens When Your Family Reads Your Memoir for the First Time" for The Writer
The idea: "I do not like this/this is weird!"
Are my idea origins vague? Yes! But that's really as vague as some of these ideas are at the start, and I get a lot of ideas (most common time for them to come to me: while I'm running, walking the dog, in the shower, or just as I'm about to fall asleep). Only a few become real live pitches, and not all of them become stories. For this story, I didn't go on social media to see if it was a common thing because The Writer is a specialized publication for a specialized audience, so it's unlikely I'd see a flood of tweets this topic. But I pitched it thinking I couldn't be the only writer to go through this, and my editor agreed.
The article: "Feel Like You're Being Stalked?" for The New York Times
The idea: "What is this?"
I bought this house in 2018 and started getting spammy-looking letters in the mail offering to buy it in cash. I didn't just get them at this address, but also at my mom's house (which had been my address while I was off on #jenin50, the 2017 road trip I took at a time I didn't really have a fixed address). I also got text messages and calls. I asked a friend and real estate investor what the heck this was all about. She was happy to fill me in with the hope that I'd write about it (she told me these campaigns often target widows), and I wrote the pitch that became this piece.
Does this help? I hope so. Maybe I'll do another round of these in a future newsletter, dipping further back into my archives. It's fun for me to remember how these came about too – maybe I'll inspire myself.
"How Law Enforcement Can Benefit from Driver Assist Technology" for StateTech
What I'm Reading
- The Women's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss. I listened to this as an audiobook, on and off for a few months. It does get very nitty gritty in details of everything that had to happen to allow women the right to vote, which can drag. But I'm glad I kept going, because the story is both inspiring and depressing. We've come so far, but still have so far go to as [waves hands at the current political climate] show.
- A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan. It's hard to fairly compare this his Omnivore's Dilemma because that book is a masterpiece, and one that changed my life. I'll try: this book can be slow and tedious in some places, or maybe I just don't care that much about architecture theory. But it is pleasant in many spots and has me thinking about some of the buildings I see when I walk the dog (because it's not like I can look at much else when the scenery doesn't change), or think about possibly expanding my house (which I don't really think I'll do, but since I spent a lot of time looking at it when I'm in the confines of my backyard, it comes to mind).
- The Court Jester. This is an old movie, and not very good, but it stars Angela Lansbury and Danny Kaye, and has costumes by Edith Head, so I gave it a go. It does get better as it goes along (a lot of magic spells and mistaken identity – very Shakespearian) but just so/so.
- I am continuing to watch DuckTales and Agatha Raisin, which are both great!. When I got back from the hospital last week, I also turned to Bluey, a charming Australian kids cartoon on Disney+. It's about a family of cattle dogs, and I have one of those (well, she's 65% cattle dog), so it's just what I needed at that time.
Until next time!
Jen A. Miller