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Friday, March 15, 2013

Writing Pad Student to Master: An Interview with Lisa Donato

Since Taffy Brodesser-Akner's essay writing class this fall, Writing Pad student Lisa Donato has successfully landed her writing in SELF Magazine, the L.A. Times, Whole Life Times, and 5280, a Colorado Magazine. She took some time out of her burgeoning freelance career to tell us how it all started.

When was your first class with essay instructor extraordinaire Taffy Brodesser-Akner?

My first class was a women’s magazine class that started at the end of September. I’ve taken five total essay classes – and I’ve doubled the money I’ve invested into classes!

Had you been published prior to this foray into essay writing?


Wow, you've had a slew of recent writing success. Tell us about the pieces and where you managed to land them.

My first "yes" was from Self Magazine on November 6th. I wrote an essay in one sitting in Taffy’s personal essay two-day boot camp. I was so strung out over finishing this essay for the workshop session the following day. Writing for me is like extracting blood from a stone sometimes, but I forced myself to finish it. I wrote my last sentence at 4am. The essay is about how I recently lost 30 pounds through the hCG hormone program in 40 days and lied about how I lost the weight to my friends and colleagues.

My next yes was from the L.A. Times L.A. Affairs column. I was going to skip class one night and Taffy convinced me to go. She helped me flesh out an idea I had about my relationship – a story about how my girlfriend and I took ballroom dance lessons in West Hollywood to determine who was the "lead" in the relationship, but it's really a story about the fear of losing ourselves when we feel like we are losing control. It ran on March 2nd. 

Recently I pitched an idea to 5280, a prominent magazine in Colorado. It’s a profile story on a group of female street artists. This story is going to run in their August issue. 

Finally, I pitched an essay idea to Whole Life Times. They loved the essay and they are going to do a feature story on me for their October/November issue. This story is about how I ended years of yo-yo dieting patterns and chronic depression by simply changing my diet. It explores the direct correlation between foods and moods. 

Congratulations! That's terrific. What have you learned about the publishing process?

Patience! I have learned to not become attached to my essays and/or pitches. I pitch 2-3 times per week and I get rejected A LOT. I really believe in my ideas, but I move on quickly. I keep a lot of pitches and essays in the pipeline and I hope that something will eventually bite. The best advice from Taffy: send out multiple essays/pitches every week; the one that sells down the road is an unexpected treat. 

Now that you’re a pro, what are your pitching techniques that help you stand out from the slush pile?

Haha. I don't consider myself a pro, but here are my best practices: I always put a question in the subject line. For example: Pitch: How Can a Pimple Beckon Suicide? I get a response from editors at least 90% of the time (even if most of them are rejections). 

I research the publication I am pitching. Has this story been covered yet? Where in the magazine is the best fit? I tell them in the first line of the pitch: This 1,200-word triumph essay is perfect for the mc@work section in Marie Claire’s magazine. One sentence reveals three things: the essay is already written, the type of essay (triumph), and that I have done research. 

I keep the pitch simple and I always say that I will follow up in one week if I don’t hear back. Follow up is key. Every essay I’ve sold had at least one follow-up email. Oh, and Tuesdays are lucky for me. I always pitch on Tuesdays. 

Excellent tips, Lisa. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!

If you want to set your freelance career into motion, Taffy Brodesser-Akner is the best person to help get you off the ground. She's helped 25 students get published, including our Writing Pad superstar Lisa Donato!

There are two upcoming Writing Pad classes with Taffy aimed at getting your essay published: the Personal Essay Clinic on March 18th and What Do You Think? Writing the Op-Ed or Cultural Essay on March 21st and 28th. There's only 1 spot left in each class. Sign up today and you'll have a byline in no time!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Writing Prompt: Cartoon Characters

Anime Marilyn By Jeff Bernstein

By Marilyn Friedman and Alana Saltz

Do you remember how wonderfully lazy Saturday mornings were when you were a kid? As a child, Marilyn would wander downstairs in her PJ's at around 9 or 10 a.m. on Saturdays, grab a bowl of Rice Krispies, and spend hours watching cartoons like "The Smurfs." As an adult, she has to spring out of bed by 7 a.m. on Saturdays and get Writing Pad East and West ready for morning classes. Gone are the days of carefree weekend mornings without long to-do lists! Sigh. This week's writing prompt (at the bottom of this post) is inspired by Marilyn and Alana reminiscing about the simpler days of childhood.

Speaking of fun times, we have many cool events and classes at the Pad this week. If you're looking for something fab to do Friday night, join us for Crime Scene Confidential with award-winning mystery author David Corbett (“Done for A Dime”, NY Times Notable, Several Best Novel Awards), bestselling author James Scott Bell ("Plot & Structure", "Deceived") and screenwriter and novelist Bill Rabkin ("Monk,""Psych"). Meet these fantastic writers and learn how to write crime stories so real that you can see the yellow crime-scene tape. Admission is only $10 (includes Marilyn's famous sangria).

Also, on the Eastside on Sunday, award-winning performer Ann Randolph (Best Solo Show LA Weekly, Best Solo Performer LA Times & SF Examiner) will turn your life’s trials and tribulations into a hit one-person show in The You Show: A Solo Performance Intensive! Her fun exercises will help you generate powerful material quickly and figure out what your show is really about. She’ll even give you customized improv exercises to craft a compelling, emotionally honest performance. Ann's class will blow you mind.

And on on the Westside on Sunday afternoon, if you have an idea for a crime story or thriller waiting to be transformed into a bestselling novel or a blockbuster, you'll want to take The Spine of Crime: Structure and the Crime Story with award-winning author David Corbett who is known to many students as "the story whisperer." David will teach you how to use character and theme to drive your story and help you create a mini-outline! 

Below are a ton of class options as well as a free writing prompt! See you soon.

Note: classes with an asterix (*) will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!

Fiction, Memoir, and Romance
Storytelling At Light Speed: The Art Of Flash Fiction

Journalism, Personal Essay and Web Writing
Personal Essay Clinic*
What Do You Think? Writing the Op-Ed or Cultural Essay*
Getting to "Like": Crafting A Compelling Blog
Query Letter Clinic: Writing The Pitch That Sells Your Story

Playwriting and Writing for Actors
Storytelling Bootcamp: A Spoken Workout

Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: Crafting Your Webisode Calling Card (1 DAY)*

Writing Prompt:
Growing up, most of us had a favorite cartoon character that we dreamed of becoming. Marilyn wanted to be Wonder Woman so much that she showed up to costume day at camp in her Wonder Woman underoos and long, red winter boots (she wasn't the only one!). She spent the rest of the year walking around in a bathing suit inspired by Wonder Woman's outfit and those same red winter boots. She would spin in her living room until she was dizzy and had dreams that she actually was Wonder Woman but was missing one of her power accessories (like the bullet proof bracelets or truth producing lasso). Maybe you idolized Superman or perhaps you had a thing for one of the Power Rangers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Make a list of three cartoon characters that you (or your fictional character) adored as a kid. Pick one. Now, add a sensory detail that you associate with this character (e.g. smell, sound, touch, taste). Then write for 10 minutes about the character and the images and memories you associate with him or her. What made this cartoon character so cool? Also, make sure to include the sensory detail in your piece. When you are finished, post your story in the comments of this blog!

What cartoon character did you want to be as a kid? Don't forget to share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!