Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

"Practice!" is of course the correct answer to this oft-repeated phrase. For those who might not know, Carnegie Hall is one of the two most well-known concert halls in the entire city of New York. It's also ridiculously hard to get on stage there, and you need to practice your ever-living bum off to get there. Radio City Music Hall is equally as well-known, but that's more for the Rockettes than anything.

As some of you may know, I've gone gung-ho lately with freelance journalism. Take a look at, and you'll see the 40+ feature articles and op-eds that populate the website over there as examples of my non-fiction writing. And now my shameless plug is over and done with, I can continue with my main topic for today.


In freelance journalism, as with fiction, you become better at all aspects the more you practice. From composition to research to query letters (oh yes there are query letters in freelancing), the more you practice the better you get at all aspects of the process.

I've written more query letters in the past month than I think I ever did for my novels. That and I'm actually sending all of them out to assigning editors along with clips of stories I'd written previously. As I write more and more of these pitches, I find myself slipping into a bit of a groove with determining the my topics and figuring out how best to describe the idea to an editor with enough force to have them pay attention.

I'm currently working on a spec piece for The Boston Globe requested on Salem, Mass. as a result of a query. My feature on the railroads of Greater Portland and Mid Coast Maine will run in the Portland Press Herald on July 24. That was assigned on the strength of my query.

Some queries were rejected because of various reasons unrelated to my execution. The publication already ran a similar story, it doesn't fit the editorial mission, they weren't planning this particular story this year ... the list is endless.

However, my rather rambling point is that the "groove" I mentioned has resulted in me being able to write targeted query letters in a shorter amount of time than it took me before. This newfound affinity at summarizing ideas into a short letter for consumption can only help in the long run; first it's 1,500-word feature articles, then I can do the same for novellas and short fiction, and finally the dreaded novel query letter.

What do you find you're getting better at with practice?

1 comment:

Rick Daley said...

My understanding of a good story arc has grown: when to reveal character motivations, and where to place the resolution of key events. Also pacing and building an emotional response in the reader. It takes multiple books and working the kinks through several story lines to start gaining momentum. There are things you can't learn from the limited perspective of your first book, you need a varied set of data from which to pull examples.

Congrats on your success in Freelancing, Matt!! Sounds like you have a good thing going.