Interview Transcripts

Phyllis Ring: Freelancer, Inspirational Writer, and Long Ridge Instructor 3/13/08

Event start time:

Thu Mar 13 06:26:15 2008

Event end time:

Thu Mar 13 20:04:33 2008



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all.

Welcome to our Professional Connection live chat interview.

My guest tonight is Phyllis Ring, freelancer, Long Ridge instructor, and VERY busy woman!

Phyllis Ring has loads of experience in magazine writing, which has been the bread and butter of my freelancing life since about 1984. She also writes regular columns for UPI (One Light, Many Lamps, www.religionandspirituality.com ) as well as some other venues. The columns and essays, a big part of her writing now, connect with two aspects of her work -"inspirational writing" (at least that's what others seem to be calling it). And also, the columns have paved the way for a published collection, Life at First Sight, which is with a publisher now and will hopefully be coming out within the year

She is also immersed in another book project that involves gathering stories from those who experienced segregation and the challenges of desegregation during the Civil-Rights era, before those stories are lost fever. And - many-pots-on-the-stove writer that she tends to be - she is still working on a book with her Montessori-teacher daughter about how to maximize children's opportunities for spiritual transformation and growth.

All this, and she has time for Long Ridge students, too!

Phyllis Ring

Hi everybody!

Mary Rosenblum

So, Phyllis, welcome! It's so nice to have you here!

Phyllis Ring

Hi everyone! Glad you're all here. :-)

Mary Rosenblum

Let's start from the very beginning...how did YOU get started writing? And when?

Phyllis Ring

Too much time alone in my room as a child!

Though as an adult my formal training was for other things, I had written from about the time I got hooked on reading in grade school. Then I had felt affirmed as a writer when the local newspaper asked me to be a correspondent for my high school. But most of my own personal writing efforts were ones I kept to myself.

In my mid 20s, already married with two small children, I began to take seriously what I had always done anyhow. A friend started a small magazine called Spiritual Mothering and asked me to be a contributor.

To my surprise, she seemed to really value my contributions. Her response helped shift the way that I began to see writing as an inevitable part of my life.

I became a writer because I accepted that it was an essential part of who I am. Then I went and found out everything I possibly could about it, and kept doing that as I actually practiced it.

I stated out trying to write fiction, which I still pursue some. But it quickly became obvious that if I wanted to generate income from writing in an ongoing way, nonfiction was the route. And the more diversified I could be, the better.

Mary Rosenblum

Very cool! So how did you get started in nonfiction? With your friend's magazine?

Phyllis Ring

Pretty much. The I made a connection with my local newspaper group, and with some regional magazines that were starting up in my area.

sailor

Some fiction writers in my writers group seem to look down on nonfiction writers as if we have it easy and are less creative. Granted the market is better for nonfiction, but I think writing creative nonfiction is every bit as creative and challenging as fiction.

Mary Rosenblum

You've done both. What do you think of this attitude:

Phyllis Ring

Oh, man, trying to write well is always a challenge, no matter kind of writing it is. Creative nonfiction is just as challenging as fiction, I think, because they share so many of the same elements, in a way.

race

How do you write for a magazine if you're not an expert on anything?

Phyllis Ring

Hi race. That's the best part of magazine nonfiction writing, for me. As long as you build your skills, you go out an learn everything you can about the topic on your readers' behalf, then share it as effectively as you can. Also, you talk to expert sources who provide expert input.

Mary Rosenblum

That's really the key, isn't it? Finding the experts who can provide the expertise?

Phyllis Ring

It definitely is an important part of the mix. That, and doing research, which is so much easier online now, with so very much more info. accessible.

Mary Rosenblum

I have quite a few students who are hoping for a serious career in nonfiction. Can you share with us the route you took to building your career? Where did you start? How did you decide on those early markets? What sorts of magazines did you query...little ones or large ones?

Phyllis Ring

Once I connected with working for newspapers, which I did fairly early in my career my writing efforts developed in whole new directions.

Working for a newspaper really proved foundational in my development as a writer. In the early 1990s, I began writing feature articles for my local newspaper group. Those regular opportunities and deadlines helped to build my skills and confidence.

Then, when the paper needed a copy editor to train, I was very lucky to receive that opportunity. From there, I eventually progressed on to become both their features editor and also do as much writing for them as I had time for.

As features editor, I had a lot of writing opportunities built in to the job, of course. Not being a news reporter, but the kind of feature writing that always really attracts me most.

What great work. If you are like me and love learning, you get to go out and learn all you can about something so that you can help others learn about it. That is what I really loved about feature writing. Plus, you can more readily find markets for nonfiction, of course.

pook

Did you work as an employee of the newspaper or just freelance?

Phyllis Ring

At first, I freelanced and did 2-6 feature stories a month. After six months, they offered me a part time staff position, and eventually I worked full time for them as features editor. And I still did a lot of writing for them, too.

sailor

I've heard that newspapers pay freelancers very little. True?

Phyllis Ring

Thanks for another good question, sailor. It's true that most pay on the lower end of the scale, but some writers make up for that by learning how to handle lots of assignments efficiently. Plus, I often could resell the stories I wrote.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, that brings up a question...I've often heard that many newspapers buy all rights because the pieces are syndicated. Not for features?

Phyllis Ring

Not usually for more locally based features, no It's often the staffers who are bounds by demands like that, I think.

gail

What Rights do newspapers usually buy from freelancers?

Phyllis Ring

Most that I have dealt with expect one-time rights. Some occasionally ask for first rights, but that was rare, in my experience. They usually just want it when they need it, to fill the holes, and they didn't seem to care as much about rights at all.

sailor

Were you able to sell the features you wrote to multiple newspaper groups? Kind of like self-syndication.

Phyllis Ring

No, I haven't pursued that route. While working for the newspaper, I was simultaneously freelancing for magazines every chance I got. I was looking at every piece I wrote to see how it might work for magazines sales, although only a percentage of them did. But this was where I got practice and training in how to look t my work with an eye to selling it more than once.

Mary Rosenblum

Killing two birds with one stone! Clever girl! What a great way to break in...with a regular paycheck, but your day job feeds your freelance career.

Phyllis Ring

In 2000, I took the plunge and shifted to freelancing full time, making most of my income from magazine assignments.

I think part of the success I was lucky enough to have was because I was always looking to maximize sales from the same manuscript, or the work involved in creating it. And to find the kind of ideas that could generate more sales.

There was one piece that really launched my efforts, a story about a fascinating African American history project in my region

Everybody was looking for those kinds of stories but nobody seemed to be writing them. I managed to find 13 different markets for it. Certainly wasnít an unlucky number for me!

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, this is a line that I preach to my students all the time....

can you elaborate a bit about just how to do this in general?

Maximizing your sales from one pool of information, I mean.

Phyllis Ring

Well, I kind of got addicted to it at one point! Even as I'm conceptualizing an idea, I'm making a list of prospective markets for it, if I take a different slant. Or even sometimes resell it just as is.

I always want to make my work and efforts produce the most they can.

When I take an assignment now, it's usually because I know that Iíll be able to use what I generate, or at least a part of it, more than once.

Mary Rosenblum

Oooh, here's a chance to define 'slant' ! Could you help folks out here?

I think it confuses a lot of students.

Phyllis Ring

I'll do my best. This is the focus that a piece takes .Take that topic I managed to resell 12 or more times. In some pieces I focused on the project.

For others, it became a profile of the woman whose work and research made it possible.

Other stories wrote about the city where it's located, as a travel destination.

Phyllis Ring

And the very best sale, the one I made to Ms., packed everything about the topic I could into just 300 words!

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, very nice clip there!

Phyllis Ring

Yup, It was my first "biggie" :-)

jrp

How do you find the right market place?

Phyllis Ring

I was also absolutely relentless about learning everything I could about the widest possible array of magazine markets. I was a regular hunter that way, and learned to enjoy the hunt, too, That helped a lot.

I continue to do this. I subscribe to a bunch of online newsletters and market lists, and I imbibe them regularly, always looking for new markets I hadn't yet found.

When folks have a hobby or interest, they pore over info. about it. That's the way I've always treated my market research.

Did I answer your question, JRP?

Mary Rosenblum

Jrp, who asked this last question said, for example, that he writes about West Virginia. Where could he find markets that take pieces like that?

jrp

The only possible publication I found is Country Woman

Phyllis Ring

Regional magazines, for one. But depending on the focus, there might be other magazine categories that would be worth investigating, too.

Country Woman might be good. With any publication, it's so important, as you no doubt know, to immerse yourself in looking at the actual publication, too. Which you can often do now online.

That's the only real way to get a true feel for the magazine's tone, audience, approach, "voice," etc.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, let me ditto what you just said! J

jrp

These are fiction or, at least fact stranger than fiction.

Phyllis Ring

Whichever type of writing, you just have to be sure that that is what a publication accepts, of course.

jerryll

Is there a particular topic you wrote about often?

Phyllis Ring

There are several. Health and healing, parenting and family life, arts, culture, writing - -and lots of stuff going on in New England, where I live. I also enjoy working as a columnist, which I do for several publications.

And spirituality and personal development are big interest areas for me, personally.

My absolutely favorite kind of writing involves discovering the stories that show what I think is most of all, the evidence of goodness and spiritual illumination in human lives, which, of course, can also be somewhat messy or confusing at the same time! But those glimmerings of that light show up in us and our lives just the same, and I think we need to watch for them.

One of my favorite venues for sharing the essay-style columns I write on themes like this is at the religionandspirituality.com† site hosted by United Press International. I write a column called One Light, Many Lamps, which runs there on alternate Tuesdays.

Mary Rosenblum

This is your inspirational writing, right?

Phyllis Ring

Yes, and it is becoming my deepest love. I guess it always has been.

Mary Rosenblum

Tell us a bit about this, what it is, where you publish it?

Phyllis Ring

For me, the broadest and most meaningful definition of inspirational writing is that it includes a personal, spiritual perspective that the writer encourages the reader to consider. The writer draws on personal experience, or that of others, in an effort to reach the reader emotionally and spiritually.

In my own experience, the process of inspirational writing goes something like this. I witness and observe. Something moves me and resonates with truth, usually in a very new way. I reflect on the story that seems to carry this truth. Then do my best to share it simply and effectively.

My goal in this kind of writing is that it resonate with the inner life of the reader, be a catalyst, and not ever seem preachy, or insistent.

I think of this kind of writing as genuine reflection, in two ways. There is the kind that goes on within the writer. And then there is the mirror-like conveying of something, light, I guess, in an inviting way to others so that they have their chance to connect with it, too.

As for markets, it's such a wide range that is looking for this -- far beyond only religious magazines.

jerryll

Thanks for the insight! It was very helpful.

jrp

Sounds like you have found your life's purpose! J

Phyllis Ring

Some of the venues for me have included Christian Science Monitor, Mamm, Sasee . You're welcome Jerry. J Yup - -it does seem to be the purpose that draws my heart.

h.p. lovesauce

Are "inspirational" markets invariably Christian?

Phyllis Ring

You know - -I was going to ask folks here how you would define "inspirational". I find that this seems to extend beyond Christian markets now, while also including them. How do some of you view this type of writing?

Another goal of mine in this kind of writing to create something that any reader, regardless of religious or spiritual inclination, or lack of it, can pick up and hopefully relate to.

I am going for a heart connection, above all, and I trust that the more inspirational elements will come through from that.

ginas

Anything that gives people hope...I don't associate it with specific religion.

Mary Rosenblum

I like that definition... That would include the 'This I Believe;' project. I find that inspirational and it's hardly religious.

Phyllis Ring

Yes, Gina, that rings very true for me.

frightwrite07

Human/uplifting and hopeful.

cajunguy

I find Christian is invariably inspirational, but inspirational doesn't necessarily have to be Christian.

jrp

I think inspirational is also spiritual.

ginas

I am so happy to have you hear because this is exactly what I like to write most...Inspirational

Mary Rosenblum

You got quite a response here. :-)

Phyllis Ring

Frightwrite's suggestion is among my goals, and cajunguy has suggested an interesting reality. It's definitely spiritual, in some way, isn't it, jrp? And Gina , I am happy to be able to share with you about this, too.

info

Don't most mags consider inspirational, in general, as something that inspires anything? I guess I look at inspirational as inspiring people towards something specific, whether it be a religion, craft, music, art or any number of things.

Phyllis Ring

Yes, info, that does seem to be a key element - -that it evokes a response in the reader, that it inspires them to see, or feel or even perhaps act differently.† Or to express creatively themselves, in some way.

pook

How do you keep from being peachy?

Phyllis Ring

GREAT question pook -- more to come

By using the same voice I would use with a friend. By keeping things simple. By making use of all of the important aspects of story.

Often, for me, this kind of writing is much the same approach as crafting a short story, or creative nonfiction.

Making use of good dialogue at the right moment, the kind that rings true. Using pauses and beats.

In essence, taking the reader into the journey of the experience, so that he or she can discover for herself what resonates within it.

It's the ultimate showing rather than telling. Also, as I write these kind of pieces, I am often also surprised, in some way, too.

When we can be true to the truth in what we share, it won't ever be preachy, I don't think.

Mary Rosenblum

So what kinds of markets exist for this sort of piece, Phyllis? Clearly it interests a lot of folk here!

Phyllis Ring

Start looking in the religious markets section, of course. But I noticed that the Institute market guide's index listing for personal experience pieces is quite large.

What I strongly recommend, what I did, was to start looking in publications themselves for this sort of writing.

Another wonderful outlet for them is anthologies, of course, of the Chicken Soup variety.

And a personal favorite market that has bought a number of my pieces is Christian Science Monitor, for it Home Forum section.

CSM posts good guidelines on its web site - -read them carefully. Since it publishes so many days a week, it needs 5-6 pieces a week, at least.

Mary Rosenblum

And they have a HUGE circulation.

Phyllis Ring

That they do -- and international! They are very nice folks to work with, too.

But be sure to check their guidelines --for the Home Forum essay, and follow them very exactly should you submit.

Mary Rosenblum

I'll be sure to feature the CSM's Home Forum as a market in the Newsletter.

Phyllis Ring

Well worth doing.

cajunguy

Can't remember specifics, but I found a Christian writer's market book at a local library.

Mary Rosenblum

Christian Writers Market. I recommend it to a lot of students.

Here's a nice take on inspirational writing, Phyllis:

lzablockij

I think we write to encourage people and provide hope.

Phyllis Ring

Another good one I just reached for here is Sally Stuart's Christian Writers Market Guide??

Yes -- so true that that is why we write!

One of my favorite sayings is, "The most important of all pilgrimages is to relieve the sorrow-laden heart."

I just returned from one as a matter of fact.

Mary Rosenblum

Very cool. Who said that, Phyllis?

Phyllis Ring

Someone named 'Abdu'l-Baha, who was a religious prisoner from the age of 9 until he was 60. He certainly knew how sorrowful hearts can get.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah! Him, I have heard of.

Phyllis Ring

I bet he's heard of you, too. ;-)

Mary Rosenblum

You never know.

pook

Do you always have to query first?

Phyllis Ring

Hi again, pook. It depends on what sort of writing you plan to submit.

Some publications are happy to receive the full manuscript for nonfiction. Most don't need a query for fiction.

But because so many editors are so busy, most would rather see a query letter for nonfiction first.

And copper -- thanks for the greeting! I just got back from Israel, where I got in the habit of saying "Shalom" :-)

Any more thoughts we should explore about queries?

Mary Rosenblum

It's probably best to simply read the submission guidelines, right? That should tell you whether a query is needed or not, right?

Phyllis Ring

Absolutely right. And if those don't tell you, it's Ok to inquire politely and ask what they prefer.

jerryll

Off the top of your head, do you where I might look for inspiration philosophy?

I mean, where I might look for a market.

Mary Rosenblum

Where do people look for markets. You mentioned online lists, right?

Bookstores?

Phyllis Ring

For inspirational writing ,jerry? That book of Sally Stuart's is great for more religiously oriented writing.

And yes, online lists, from online newsletters and web sites are a good source.

But for inspirational writing that isn't strictly religious, it's worth looking through most of the categories in a markets guide,

Because the range is so wide for these sorts of essay-like pieces. Especially if they're personal-experience, or personal reflection.

All sorts of niche type markets take them, as well as more general ones.

copper

So would we google "inspirational writing" to come up with the lists of publications online?

Phyllis Ring

Yes, copper, that could work. (Though when we google these days, what can come up first is so often something trying to sell us something!

Mary Rosenblum

You know, what it will often do is to bring up a list of pieces that have been published...and then you can see where they were published and look up the magazine.

Phyllis Ring

GREAT point, Mary.

Mary Rosenblum

Backtracking!

Phyllis Ring

As I read many of those online newsletters, so many of the market listings these days are looking for this kind of work. People are increasingly hungry for it, I think.

cathie

Any suggestions for getting inspirational messages into unexpected places?

Phyllis Ring

Ooooh, cool question, cathie.

I think that if the writing is authentic, and relates to topics that the publication seeks to include or cover, then an inspirational message in a well-crafted and cogent piece that fits their guidelines can hit home.

Any unexpected places you have in mind?

cathie

I was hoping you would suggest...

Mary Rosenblum

Phyllis, if say, the piece is finding inspiration in gardening, say, wouldn't it be worth sending it as a nonfiction narrative to say, gardening mags that take NF narrative?

Phyllis Ring

What sort of topic or focus do you have in mind, Cathie? And yes, Mary, that seems an excellent of a viable approach.

cathie

I didn't have any one in particular, it's more a case of enlightening people without being obvious or where expected.

Phyllis Ring

What I've found is, the greater percentage of publications run pieces with some sort of reflective or inspiring message - -often as the very last page, if not a department, is †in the front somewhere,

Yes cathie, I hear what you're saying now.

It seems that youíre talking about a very subtle approach -- one truly woven in and not just attached somewhere. That's what most editors want form most types of writing, I think.

sailor

A little while ago you said, "When I take an assignment now.." That sounds like you're at the level where editors contact you instead of you querying them. If so, how often does that happen to you? I can only dream of such things.

Phyllis Ring

Dream away! It can happen. It's really a process of honing your work, which we're all always dong anyhow, then getting savvy about editors' needs.

I was lucky that my sheer perseverance, sending out as many submissions and queries as I could, hopefully well targeted, probably netted me publication fairly early.

Early in my efforts, I heard one writer talk about how, if you have some ability, increasing your number of submissions and queries really improves your odds definitely made a deep impression on me. I love that contest that you sponsor to encourage that, Mary. What a great idea.

Newspaper work also helped me acquire an editorís perspective too, of course. It became obvious that editors need for writers to be skilled, dependable, to come through on deadline and do good work. Also, to be accessible, yet unobtrusive. And, ideally, to bring them with more good ideas to follow up.

 

Once you've proven yourself with an editor, if you can come back with another good idea, and they eventually start giving ideas to you.

Editors are just people who need to get their job done. Writers can be their awfully good friends, in that way.

Editors almost always have a need for writing, but it needs to truly match the needs that they have. Too often, writers are not making enough effort to do that.

More than once, Iíve asked for time with an editor in my region, either in person, online, or phone, to explore what her/his needs from writers look like. If they know youíre serious, they often appreciate that. It can sometimes lead to assignments, too.

Also, when I query, I often say something at the end like, "If this idea doesn't hit the mark but you're looking to make assignments, thank you for keeping me in mind." †The list of clips I reference shows them I have a track record.

pook

How much time weekly do you spend on these many projects, like for one column?

Phyllis Ring

Writing columns is my true love. I am always writing them, really, as I go, wherever I am.

These are my treat to myself, in a way. But when it comes to actually getting one written and sent, it can take an hour, it can take an afternoon, it can unfold over several days.

As Joyce Maynard says, when it comes to writing out of your own view and experience, "I often have to live the column, first." Or see it in the first place, in life around me.

molli

Can you describe your typical work day?

Phyllis Ring

Oh, molli, if only I had a typical one! But let me try.

I work best early in the day, VERY early, so I try to start by 6 at the latest, or maybe 7.

I devote that time to writing that's springing forth for the first time, as I like it to come so freshly out of dream time.

I usually work on writing assignments, articles and such, from around 9-1, maybe a little later. Then I need to do something non-writing.

My favorite time to look at the lessons of Long Ridge students is either late morning or early afternoon, too. That's a good focus time for me.

Good time of day for revision, too, or doing some of the freelance reading or editing that I do.

The columns seem to come out best in the morning, right after that dreamier creating time.

cathie

Given the amount of time you write - what percentage goes to market research?

Phyllis Ring

It's a little hard to tell cause I'm always doing it as I go. I read all of those newsletters' market listings at least every week -- that's about a half hour.

Then I probably spend an hour or two a week scouting around to look at actual pubs (often online) and read their guidelines.

So it's actually a small portion if I work a, say 30- to 40-hour week, but it's steady and ongoing.

Plus, I've been doing it for a fairly long time, so am familiar with a fair number of markets. But you still have to keep up -- the rules always change!

copper

Can you be specific about the "newsletter market listings" How do we find those?

Phyllis Ring

Sure. There are a bunch of web sites for writers, such as Writers Weekly, Worldwide Freelancer -- and my favorites, the publications put out by hope Clark (Funds for Writers etc.)

Mary Rosenblum

And be sure to check the Webeditor section of the LR Newsletter. I often post new market lists I've found online.

Phyllis Ring

Most of these publish a free weekly e-newsletter that includes up-to-date market listings, many with live links to guidelines and such.

If you subscribe to even one or two, you'll learn about many others just by reading them. I have a list of these electronic pubs that I send to students. Email me at info@phyllisring.com and I'll send it to anyone interested.

Mary Rosenblum

Ooooh, send me the list, Phyllis and I'll include it in the newsletter!

cathie

What is freelance reading?

Phyllis Ring

Yup - -LR is at the top of that list I send out -- should have said so! I'll send it, Mary.

That probably sounded confusing. Because I have experience as an editor as well as writer, some publisher have asked me to take a look at projects in different stages of development, in order to offer feedback.

I don't actually edit these, just offer a candid response. It's also a moderate source of some freelance income.

belledove

I would like to know what you think is the most important qualification or tool you can have to be an In Demand freelance writer for a newspaper

Phyllis Ring

Hm, belledove. Good writing skills and the ability to work well with deadlines.

Skill in conceiving ideas, and conducting interviews,

And, as with any writing, being able to conceptualize how a piece should come together in order to feel whole, and invite the reader in.

Mary Rosenblum

We are about out of time and I know it's late in your time zone...want to tell everyone what we can read of yours?

Phyllis Ring

Happy to. About 40 of my published inspirational pieces have been gathered together into a collection called Life at First Sight, which is currently with a publisher and hopefully coming out within the year, as you noted.

And please do check out my column at religionandspirituality.com. If you go to that home page and then click the tab for columnists at the top, you can find me there. A new column goes up every other Tuesday.

And, I'll close with my mantra, summed up in what my dear Chinese friends always called out to me as we went our separate ways. Someday, Iíll figure out how to use it as a book title.

Take Your Time! Do Your Best! Enjoy Yourself! God bless you all!

Mary Rosenblum

God bless you, too, Phyllis!

Phyllis Ring

Goodnight all!

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks for a wonderful and informative visit! You were great!

ginas

Thanks Phyllis....this was very interesting

molli

Thank You, Phyllis.. you are inspiring!

Phyllis Ring

It was sheer delight -- thanks to each and every one, and all those good questions! BIG WAVE!!!

Mary Rosenblum

Good night all!

 

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