By Kelly Boyer Sagert
While strolling around the neighborhood with my children, I noticed that somebody had wedged a magenta flower into the iron door handle of a downtown church. Since most of the stem was missing, there was now no way to open that door without either removing or bruising that brilliant blossom.
On another recent walk, I saw ragged pieces of a white substance blowing around in the wind. I chased a few down and discovered them to be ripped-up pieces of graduation photos, circa. 1960. The jagged edges were pure white, so I knew that the photos were freshly torn. Puzzled, I put the scraps into my purse, where they still remain.
Who slipped that flower into the door handle? Why did someone rip up photos, decades after they were taken? Well, I donít know. But, I do know that, to be a freelance writer, you must carefully observe the world around you to generate topics for your writing.
So, look around your own hometown, no matter how large or how small. What information huddles in the dusty files of your local historical society? What regal monuments grace your town square? Who rests in that ancient cemetery? What intriguing clubs, festivals or trade shows congregate in your city? What fascinating people can you meet and/or interview?
The answers may be obvious Ė or, you may need to dig more deeply for the real story. When I freelanced for a newspaper, for example, I interviewed the photographer who taped cable television shows for the local school system. He was a pleasant man and our interview progressed well, but I feared that his profile would be bland. Near the end of our conversation, however, I commented on his ever-so-slight accent and then words spilled from out of his mouth.
He'd literally gone from millions to mayhem; as a young child in Hungary, he'd lived in a mansion filled with servants. Then the Nazis destroyed his idyllic life and by the time the photographer was a young man, his parents were dead and he was a newcomer in our country. He knew how to take pictures, though, and so he supported himself in that way.
Everyone has at least one good story to tell. It's the writer's job, though, to uncover that story, because the subjects themselves often don't realize how intriguing their tale. The photographer, for example, told me that I could include his personal history if I thought that "someone would be interested."
Here are other tips, to help you find hometown inspiration for your articles.
- Read the tiny blurbs, sometimes called fillers, in your cityís newspaper.
- Listen to offbeat anecdotes shared by the popular DJ on your local radio station.
- Attend library programs. Ask for background and contact information.
In each of these cases, you might uncover the absorbing story behind the story. As for me, Iím now pondering two people, who looked like grandmother and granddaughter, and who were selling pillows from a truck - two for $5.96 as long as they were standard size. Queen and King cost extra.
Who were they? Why were they selling pillows? And . . . how does one become a pillow salesperson . . .
Copyright © Kelly Boyer Sagert. This article may be freely distributed or published, in electronic or printed form, if the following text is included in full at the end:
Kelly Boyer Sagert has published over 1,000 pieces of her writing in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and online venues. Her latest book is Baseballís All-Time Greatest Hitters: Joe Jackson (Greenwood 2004), and she is also the author of íBout Boomerangs: Americaís Silent Sport (PlantSpeak Publication, 1996). For more information, see www.kbsagert.com