I’ve been mesmerized by “The Help,” Kathryn Stockett’s book about the complicated relationship between black maids and the white families they worked for in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.
I’ll save my analysis of the entire book for another day. Right now, I want to share the advice Stockett has for working as a freelance writer.
According to the author bio in the book, Stockett spent 16 years working in the magazine publishing industry, and it shows. Woven into the story line of “The Help” are all kinds of subtle suggestions and helpful advice for writers.
Some of it comes in the form of conversations and letters between Skeeter Phelan, one of the book’s main characters and a young woman who’s just come home from college and no longer fits in with her married friends, and Elaine Stein, a New York book editor to whom she first applies for a job, then proposes a novel idea for a book.
One of the tidbits that Stein shares with Skeeter is great advice for writers of all experience levels:
…go to your local newspaper and get an entry-level job. You included in your letter that you “immensely enjoy writing.” When you’re not making mimeographs or fixing your boss’s coffee, look around, investigate, and write. Don’t waste your time on the obvious things. Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.
Next time you’re working up pitches to send magazines or websites you haven’t written for before, think about that – is the idea too obvious? Does it bother you? Is it something that bugs you but nobody else? In the book, Skeeter came up with something – will you?