Can you believe it? It’s me, writing a post on my own blog. Going to try to do it more often from here out. I’ll write about my new book, The Good Neighbor, about writing, about life. They all intersect on most days, so why not?
Grab a cuppa and tell me about your first or most unusual inspiration in the comments!
Sweet Inspiration: How Food Network Helped Jumpstart My Writing Career
I’ve read the Sunday paper on and off my whole adult life. Lucky for me, in September of 2006 my reading stint was “on.” I stood at my dining room table, sorting through sections for what I wanted to carry to the sofa. Full disclosure—I hate the feel of newsprint—so the fewer pages to turn once sitting down, the better. Then, while still standing, a column caught my eye. I don’t remember the title, or the byline, but I do remember it was about kids’ soccer games and soccer snacks.
Something bold crossed my mind. “I could do that.”
Naiveté can be a beautiful thing.
Through some research I discovered the author of that piece was the editor of the Perspective section of my Sunday Chicago Tribune. By that time I’d had a popular “slice of life” or “mommy blog” for six or seven months. I had a background in journalism. I had moxie.
I also had nothing to lose.
The worst that would happen was that I’d get no reply.
I emailed the editor and introduced myself. I asked if they ever used freelance writers for Perspectives. I explained why I could write columns that would meet their needs and I attached links to my most popular blog posts.
And she wrote back the next day. She told me that there would be a new editor for Perspectives and that he’d be in touch. He was. Then for two months we talked and brainstormed. He wanted my first piece to really hit the mark. I emailed ideas for columns very similar to things I’d blogged about—life as a Jewish single mom in the suburbs. None of my ideas bowled him over. I remember him saying we’d find the right idea at some point, and that I should think about writing something about the holidays. It was November. I wracked my brain. I made lists. None of them were any good.
Then one night while walking through the family room en route to somewhere else, I passed the TV, which was on. This is normal at my house. Also normal at my house is Food Network. So, the TV was tuned to Food Network and there was a commercial for a show about baking cookies. I stopped in front of the screen.
Everybody loves cookies. I said it out loud. Then I said it again. EVERYBODY LOVES COOKIES!
I ran right to the dining room table where I kept my laptop, next to all the homework papers, backpacks, and folders. I wrote my column about holiday cookies in record time. Then I rewrote it. Then again. I researched some holiday cookie names. Then, after my kids went to bed, I pounded another column about the differences in speech from Philadelphia (where I was born and grew up) to Chicago (where I was raising my own kids), and I focused that piece on some of the words associated with Hanukkah. I was up until midnight, which is not my m.o. If you know me well, you know I’m in bed by ten.
The next morning I emailed both columns to my editor.
On December 6th, 2006 All-Purpose Treat Brightens Every Holiday Tradition was published in the Sunday Perspective Section of The Chicago Tribune.
On December 17th, 2006, At Hanukkah, How You Pronounce Latke Makes A World Of Difference was published.
After that I wrote about ten columns for Perspective over the next 2-3 years, until the Trib stopped publishing that section.
I believe that first column set in motion everything that has happened since.
That experience took me back to my journalism roots, somewhat, as this was part of the newspaper, with headlines (not titles) determined by space, not by cleverness. Although these were more essay than article, I worked with a seasoned newspaper reporter who was the interim editor. He showed extreme confidence in me. He explained every edit, talked through every change. He pushed me farther in my writing than I’d been pushed in fifteen years. He even encouraged me to link my blog to my columns. In retrospect, I should have. But at the time my blog was anonymous, just like the blog in The Good Neighbor, penned by Izzy Lane. The difference is that I wanted to be anonymous so that I could tell the truth. The truth about my meeting my ex’s girlfriend for the first time, the truth about the guy who met me for lunch wearing a wrinkled trench coat and didn’t even buy me a Diet Coke, the truth about life in the suburbs. In The Good Neighbor, Izzy is anonymous because she’s lying.
But just like Izzy, I realized there was only one way to go and that was forward, onward, upward. Life was no longer about being a blogger — this was about being a published freelance writer. Those Chicago Tribune columns were often picked up by other Tribune newspapers around the country. I pitched other publications and was published in them. And the very next year, I decided to try writing fiction. And we all know how that turned out. ;-)
It’s true I took action that day in September when I read the column about soccer snacks. I could have just thought “I could do that” and not emailed the editor. But I did. (I could have said I wanted to write a novel, too. And not done it.)
But—walking through the family room and being hit with the inspiration for the story about cookies from a TV commercial? That was good timing. That was being open. That was realizing if I didn’t try, I’d never know.
That was sweet.