Monday, January 25, 2010

Zoo Trivia

After submitting my zoo article on Friday night, I washed my hands of it. Then I got an emergency call this weekend from a public relations official who had finally gotten the email I sent last week. I made the updates and rushed in a revised copy first thing this morning.

The urgent changes? Northwest Trek's Giant Pacific Salamander isn't really a foot long. And their diving beetles and bees are only displayed seasonally.

Now you know.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Northwest Zoos

This week I've been researching local zoos for an upcoming parenting article. Besides feeding kangaroos in the rain, I've learned:
--that Cougar Mountain Zoo exhibits reindeer because "people don't realize they're real!" Everybody just knows them from Santa Claus stories.
--that Scott Peterson, founder of the Reptile Zoo, bought an Alligator Snapping Turtle to save it from the soup pot (it's still at the zoo--don't get your fingers too close!)
--that the founders of the Outback Kangaroo Farm meant to go into ostrich-farming, but at the ostrich farm meeting sat next to a woman cuddling a baby kangaroo
It's so great to have an excuse to pester people for details.

It's all writing

A letter to the roofing company, a thank-you card, a blog post. They all use the same skills as writing professionally: set the right tone, tailor your message to your audience, be specific. It's all writing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Day of Adventures and Writing Inspiration

Adventure #1: Cutting Alex's hair in the bathtub to reduce mess.
Result: bad idea--wet hair is 10 times harder to clean up than dry hair. Will not recommend in a parenting article.

Adventure #2: Crawling around the attic on my knees and elbows photographing the damage caused by the installation of our brand new roof.
Result: found new confidence and a new leak at the same time. All sorts of homeowner article ideas springing to mind.

Adventure #3: Researching an upcoming article by feeding bread crusts to kangaroos at the Outback Christmas Tree and Kangaroo Farm.
Result: We fed lemurs, petted kangaroos, and cuddled a kangaroo joey (baby). Fun place, even in the rain. Anticipate an easy writeup.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Showing off your best self

As a writer, I've learned to tailor my text to my audience. That's why I end up editing a lot of resumes. I find myself giving the same advice over and over (advice other friends gave me when I was just starting out). Here, in a nutshell, is how to sell yourself.

--What makes you the right candidate? Whether you're applying for graduate school, going after a job in a top company, or persuading a publication to assign you an article, know why you're the right choice. Then write it.
--What makes you stand above your competitors? If you're pitching an article about juvenile delinquents, have you volunteered with troubled youth for the past three years? If you're applying at Google, have you worked on open-source projects till midnight? If you're applying to graduate school, have you written an award-winning thesis or done independent research?
--Think about your most spectacular accomplishments, and describe them in specific language. "Worked as a programmer 3 years" won't get you far, but if you add "Improved product speed by 25%" and "Managed a team of seventeen," you're showing what you succeeded at.
--Target your audience, and use only what's pertinent. Nannying experience won't help you land a programming job; your MA in history probably won't help you sell a science-fiction novel.
--You've learned skills from volunteering, from leading amateur groups, from managing your family. Use them if you've got gaps to fill; resumes don't have to be limited to paid work.

Whether you're writing a resume, or an application essay, or a query letter, show off your spectacular self. You can do it--even if you have to stick with the simple truth.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Working Minds, Clogged Drains

While I was putting the finishing touches on a parenting article due today, my 20-month-old sneaked into the bathroom and started dissolving toilet paper in the sink. Now my article is turned in, but my sink is clogged. Oh, the joys of writing with small children.

My article, which will be printed this summer in ParentMap, is about giving children fun learning opportunities. Should I call this one a workshop on fluid dynamics and solid/liquid interactions? Maybe. But my little girl is staying in her crib until I've cleaned up the mess.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Saved in Print

Every year, my father creates a Christmas treasure hunt to lead us to our big family gift. This treasure hunt drew clues from gems he collected from friends and family: a letter my brother wrote at seven about that day's fishing trip; one of my blog entries; my grandfather's account of how he joined the Air Force during WWII; an uncle's essay about how he ended up in law school by accident; and a fellow doctor's published account of how he restored vision to a man twenty years blind. Every writer had preserved a precious memory, an event that would have otherwise been lost.

My father's point: we are surrounded by heroes, but we only know it by the accounts we share with each other. So write!

Google Docs

A fan of Microsoft Word for over a decade, I balked when my husband suggested I try Google Docs. I can make Word turn somersaults for me; Google Documents don't have the same functionality (at least not that I've discovered yet.) But after trying to keep track of fifty versions of documents that I had to transfer back and forth between my desk computer and my laptop, I realized there had to be a better way. So I've given Google Documents a try, writing my file online, and accessing it from whatever computer I want. Heaven! I might be hooked.