Column Writing Pros and Cons 
by Jackie Houchin
Column Writing sounds so, well, so glamorous to me – a daily, weekly, or monthly byline with a headshot. Readers loving me, looking forward to my next article, writing to me… Head swelling stuff for sure.
Unlike the other gals on this blog, I’m not a novelist. I’ve attempted writing short stories and had ONE flash story published, but the whole… character arc, rising and falling action, three act structure, dying-to-self climax… I just can’t get it all to work.  Maybe that’s why I got into the newspaper writing and book reviewing business. Telling someone else’s story – now THAT I can do. 
My first book review was published in a local “rag” (The Foothills Paper) with the greatest of ease.  The editor asked for another review, and then started sending me out as a “cub reporter” covering local events, writing human interest stories, and doing local business profiles.  I loved seeing what was happening around town, “shooting” dignitaries, writing it all up. My favorite was interviewing people and telling their stories. (See my “Interview Techniques” on this blog
My words and photos, in print every week. It’s a real high. Give me a press card, an assignment, a Wednesday deadline and I was in writer-heaven. I’ll admit, I got a bit “cocky” when I started getting front page and multi-part stories. That’s when I began to wonder…could I segue from a “stringer” into a columnist?  What would it be like to have my own permanent spot on page three?
It was then I happened on *Lydia E. Harris’ article, “Is Column Writing for You?” What I learned from it made me decide to… well, let me share her wisdom first.  She asked NINE questions to consider before taking the leap.  I’ll list them, and show how I came to my “final decision.”
1. Do you have an idea for a column TOPIC?  She told us to consider our profession, hobbies, life experiences.
I had several I could choose from: aspects of writing, photography, horse keeping, Bible commentary. A “Dear Abby” type column would be fun, but who was I to tell other people how to solve their problems? I had to look at each idea closely and see if I could generate an ongoing column from any of them. (Kind of slim, I had to admit.)
2. How will the commitment impact your family? Do you have TIME to take on a new, ongoing writing assignment?
As I chewed on my cheek, I looked at the things in my life that might have to be set aside. Of course that depended on how often my column would appear, wouldn’t it?
3. Is money an issue?
I hadn’t considered money much. Sure I got paid for the stories and photos that ran in the newspaper, but would a column garner more money? Any money? (Note to self: check this out.)
4. Can you accept criticism from readers? If your writing is controversial, you may receive negative feedback.
Eek!  No, I’m not good with criticism.  But wouldn’t my column be “nice” and safe?  I’d been expecting “atta-girl” letters, not confrontations. (I looked over my possible topics list and crossed off Bible commentary.)  I also had to consider the fact that my newspaper editor DID thrive on controversy and heated letters exchanged. Would he allow me a cute little column? (Um… nope.)
5. WHY do you want to write a column? Is it to share your expertise, shape lives, develop credentials? Do you want a built-in writing market? Do you want to gain recognition and build a platform?
These questions were getting harder.  Did I really have “expertise” on any of my topic ideas? How would tips on horse keeping shape people’s lives? How about name recognition? I already had that with my weekly stories and photos.  (Note to self: develop MORE topic ideas!)
6. Are you good at generating ongoing ideas for your topic? (Here she gave a short challenge: Pick a topic that interests you and quickly list 10-20 column ideas.)
Um… how about two?
7. Are you motivated to complete columns regularly and meet deadlines?
Deadlines were not a problem. I did my best writing when I was coming down to the wire on a midnight deadline. But, what if I couldn’t come up with enough ideas on my column topic?  Would I get bored? Get sloppy? Want to quit quickly?  Would I let the editor and the readers – my dear sweet readers – down?  
8. How often would you want to write a column?
The stars in my eyes were quite dim by now. I wasn’t sure I could do this column writing thing.  The vision of a fascinating and well-read weekly column was fading into the mist. Writing it seemed like climbing Mount Everest. Or a prison I’d be locked into for the rest…of…my…life. 
Her last question was a hum-dinger.
9. SHOULD you write a column? It depends on how you answered the above questions. If you have something to say, can say it well, and find a market, then the answer is probably yes.
Sadly disillusioned, I had to admit my answer was “no.” I was a cub reporter, a stringer, for a rag newspaper, in search of that great investigative story that would win me a Pulitzer!  (Okay, maybe not that!)
But she continued with a bit more advice if your answer was “yes.”
1. Carefully select a title for your column. If possible make your title distinctive by including your name in it.
2. To find a market, start with a local publication and prepare several sample columns. Submit them with a proposal and cover letter to introduce yourself and the need for the column. (Don’t discuss pay!)
I retired from newspaper writing when I moved south to Orange County four years ago. I never attempted to write a column, but I did have my own News Website for some years, and now I write on three blogs; THIS ONE, my eclectic “Here’s How it Happened” ( and my “Morning Meditations; Beginning the Day in God’s Word” ( ).
Hey… a blog is a column of sorts, right?

* “Is Column Writing for You?” by Lydia E. Harris, Christian Communicator, September, 2011

For Better or Worse – Married to a Writer by GB Pool

For Better or Worse
Before I married my husband, I told him all I wanted to do in life was write. I wanted to make sure he didn’t mind being married to a writer. Richard wouldn’t have cared if I said I wanted to wrestle alligators. He just wanted to get married. Neither one of us was getting any younger.

           So we married. It will be 30 years this coming New Years Eve. And I have written many books. Fifteen have hit the presses and I am doing what I said I wanted, but I also signed on as wife, and that has obligations, too.

It was only six years into our marriage when it became possible for me to retire and write full-time. No longer were we sharing the chores and the cooking after work. Now Richard earned the paycheck; I was “housewife/writer.” No matter what they tell you, writing doesn’t pay all the bills for most of us pen-pushers.
I have to admit, the house was cleaner when I had a full-time job. I also wasn’t doing any writing then. I kept the homestead ship-shape and took pride in a sparkling kitchen and dust-free zones. Now there are dust bunnies the size of gorillashiding under the bed and there are areas of the house I haven’t touched in years.
But I do try to put hot meals on the table, though more than once the center of the re-heated beans is still cold or the three-day-old chicken is a tad tough. I do wash and iron the clothes, even the permanent press. I want to send Richard off to work looking terrific.
I used to do this all on Friday. It was a solid seven or eight hour day. I started to dread Thursday evening knowing what loomed ahead of me the next day.
My brilliant husband suggested I split up the work week. So a few hours Monday, Thursday and Friday gets it all done. I am finished before noon every workday and have two entirely free days in the middle of the week when I am working on a writing project.

The schedule works, though I do dread Wednesday evenings knowing “cleaning day” is coming, but I get over it quicker. And it is the right thing to do. I also make a point of listening when Richard has a bad day or a good day or an average day at the office because he is giving me what I wanted – time to write. If he wants to head off to the hardware store or Big 5 Sporting Goods or Office Depot, he asks me to go with him and I do. The fact he still wants my company means more to me than the hour or two I might lose at the computer.
I have spent these many years not only writing, but building doll houses and making other miniatures and painting. My artwork is everywhere. I tried to leave the living room as strictly his space for his various radios and books. And I give him space to do his own thing in the garage.

My point in writing this blog post is to let other writers know they, too, have an obligation to their spouse or family and pets, even their friends, to give a little of themselves while doing what they want to do. You have to be true to yourself, but you aren’t alone out there and having friends and family to share your dreams and accomplishments is an integral part of life.
Richard and I signed on to that agreement nearly thirty years ago when we said, “I do.” I am thankful every single day that he had no idea what he was getting into. I guess this is sort of a Valentine to my guy. Thanks for believing in me, RJ.

Writing Short Stories: A Mini Course by Kate Thornton Part II

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

Today, Kate continues with the second part of a mini course on writing short fiction, beginning with marketing.

Marketing your finished work

1. Know your genre. Do you write mystery? Science fiction? Romance? Contemporary literary? I write mostly mystery and science fiction, but I firmly believe that if you can write, you can write anything you want to. Look at your story and figure out where it might belong. Chances are, it could fit into more than one category.

2. Research your markets. Know what they want. Every magazine, anthology or contest has submission guidelines. Read them carefully and give them what they want. If they say under 1000 words, don’t send 1001. If they say snail mail only, get out those envelopes. If they say no vampires, robots, brunettes, or cats, don’t send your epic space opera vampire story about the furry dark robot cats. Keep on looking for a market that fits – or revise your story to fit the market. Either way works.

3. Polish your story again. Give it one more read, made sure it looks great and is in the right format.

4. Submit. Go on, do it. And keep a record of your submissions. A simple Word or handwritten document giving title, market, date of submission and date/type of response is perfect. That way you don’t miss a market or submit the same thing twice to the same market.

A note about cover letters.

Short stories are usually sent with a short cover letter (not a query letter, which is something else entirely.) Cover letters usually say something like this:

Dear Editor,

Attached (or in the body of this email) please find my original 750 word short story, “Lost in the Woods.”

I am an avid reader of your magazine, and have had work published in “Sewage Monthly,” “Cat Lovers USA,” and “Coal Digest” (or leave credits out if don’t have any – it won’t matter if you don’t have any.)

I look forward to hearing from you.


Avid J. Reader
123 Writer Lane
New York, NY 10000
(212) 555-5555 (Your name, address, phone number & email are important!)

Then you wait. But while you are waiting, write something else. Keep on doing that.

Where? Where do I submit?

Here are the links to 2 of my favorite online market guides.

Ralan (look over on the far right for market listings)
Publishing…And Other Forms of Insanity

There are others, of course. And if you post to any writers’ forums (or fora for you linguistic purists) you will also find market info. Here’s one I like:

Absolute Write

Happy writing!

That’s the quick and easy of short stories. Time to write one!

Step by Step with Bonnie Schroeder

with Bonnie Schroeder 
Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
One morning last week as I was brewing coffee and contemplating the novel I’m getting ready to write, it all seemed overwhelming. I felt like shelving the whole thing; it was too, too much. I’ve sketched out the premise and drafted a few opening pages, but that’s it. The book will require a lot of research, I don’t know my characters, I’m not even sure I like those opening pages, I’m facing a long road of drafts, critiques, rewrites, and blah blah blah. “How am I ever going to do it all?” I muttered to myself.
A few sips of coffee later, I quit whining. The last two or three years have been focused on writing/revising/editing my latest project (for which I hope to find a home this year), so I haven’t started a novel from scratch in a long time. But I went through my preliminary notes for the last one, hoping to find a clue as to how I did it, and I rediscovered a nifty technique I learned about through the recommendation of a writer friend. It’s called “The Snowflake Method.” You might have heard of it.
Lest I be thought an internet pirate, let me give full credit for the technique to Randy Ingermanson. I do not know Mr. Ingermanson personally; I found his website by Googling “Snowflake Method for Writing a Novel.” You can buy his book on Amazon, but he also offers the basic technique for free on his website, and I took advantage of his generosity.


The principle is simple: you start with a brief premise, then expand the premise, get into character descriptions, sketch out your scenes, and so on. The narrative is developed via a logical progression that takes you deeper and deeper into the story and the characters. Each step leads to the next, more complex step, much the way that an actual snowflake is structured.
On my last novel, I of course deviated from the original design work with each revision, but I’d never have gotten started without the guidance of the Snowflake technique.
The beauty of this approach, for me, is that it breaks down the writing process into separate specific tasks. It is very freeing to realize that I don’t have to do everything at once. By breaking it down into bite-size chunks, I can tackle one at a time without worrying about the road ahead. Looking ahead, at this stage, just freaks me out.
Some of my fellow dog-owners and I like to hike the trails in Griffith Park, and one of our more challenging climbs is up to Mt. Hollywood—a 1600 ft. gain. I invited another friend to join us, and when she looked up at our destination, she started to cry. Honest, she did. I knew she could make the climb okay, she’s in good shape and works out at the gym, so it wasn’t the physical challenge that daunted her; it was the mental one. The end point seemed too far away, the road too steep. I explained to her what the rest of us knew: the secret is not to look up. Focus on the trail in front of you, and take it one step at a time. It keeps you from getting discouraged and it’s safer, too—you won’t trip over any rocks if you keep your eyes on the road just ahead.
There are times, of course, when it’s good to take the long view. On our climb we stop midway for water (and to catch our breath.) And we take in how far we’ve come before we look up at the top of the mountain. Somehow, at that point, it doesn’t seem all that far away. Then we shoulder our back packs and focus on the trail right in front of us, and we do that all the way to the top.
My friend made it just fine, by the way. We were all sweaty and out of breath, but we did it. And the view from up there is always—always—worth the exertion.


So that’s what I’m doing now. Since I have the premise and a couple of characters, I’ll move through the design process and eventually begin to write the manuscript, with my Snowflake roadmap to light the way. And one of these days, I’ll be able to look at the stack of paper on my writing table and think, I’ve come this far. I can make it to the finish line. One step at a time.
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