Writing Close To Home

Published in the June 2009 Wisconsin Writer’s Association Newsletter


Nowhere does the edict to “write what you know” make more sense than for Wisconsin writers who want to write locally. Jerry Apps and Michael Perry are great examples of writers who’ve made cottage industries out of relating their childhood experiences, memories and the sometimes the hard learned lessons of small town living. Their talent is to take a story from close to home, to universalize it and make it one all readers can relate to.

Jerry Apps has written more than fifteen books about Wisconsin and his childhood, growing up on the farm. Michael Perry recounts what it was like to return to his very small hometown of New Auburn (Population 485) and the challenges of setting up his small, Wisconsin farm (Coop). Both writers have demonstrated how to take the most simple, basic facts of their life and tell a story that both entertains and informs.

To most of the country, the Midwest is an unknown territory, especially for those who only know Wisconsin as that cheese-head-wearing, face-painted Packer fan they see on Monday night football. Or as research subjects pointed out in studies regarding the consumption of brandy, beer and brats.

Wisconsin has so much more. Writers have a unique opportunity to present their state as the special place it is through the stories and articles that grace the pages of state, regional and city publications. Wisconsin’s long progressive political past, it’s labor movement foundation, it’s abundance of natural resources, the woods, lakes and rivers, railroads and pioneer history lend itself to the preservation of our past.

To prepare for a panel discussion on writing in and about Wisconsin, all I had to do was enter into Google: “Wisconsin freelance writing guidelines.” The many sites I found were magazine such as: Wisconsin Trails, Wisconsin Magazine of History, Wisconsin People and Ideas, The Progressive, On Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Natural Resources.

A search for “Wisconsin regional and city magazines” revealed Madison, Milwaukee and Door County all have magazines dedicated to promoting their area. These markets thrive on the creative, funny, historical and poignant stories of how the people of these areas of Wisconsin live their lives.

Another rich outlet can be found in local newspapers. The Inter-County Leader published in Fredric accepts freelance articles from a local writing group. The Lakeland Times in Minocqua accepts pieces for their “Reader’s Corner” column.

Pat Mueller, formerly a freelance feature writer for the Vilas County News Review in Eagle River, says writers need to be creative and willing to write to the newspaper’s needs. She called the editor and asked what a free-lance writer could do for them. Human interest stories were interesting to this busy editor with limited staff; Pat filled that niche.

Her first assignment, to write about a local man who grew oversized pumpkins, turned out to be a great profile about one man seeking and living his passion. She says every assignment led her to telling a story that took off in unusual directions that were more intriguing than she’d ever expected.

But, finding the market is just the first step. What’s required from there, is doing the research that is the basis of seeking any writing market. Read closely the writers guidelines to determine if your writing would fit. Then pay attention to how the publication wants to hear from you. Follow these guidelines carefully. A call to the editor, as Pat did, might answer your questions and be the beginning of a productive working relationship.

Reading the magazines you want to submit to is another well-established step. Look at the departments in the table of contents and perhaps you’ve already written a nugget to add to that nitch. Take a look at the cover story or the features to see what their readers are interested in. Then test the waters. Make a call. Send something out!

Writing in and about Wisconsin can be a writer’s dream. Whether you develop your own nitch, a la Apps and Perry, or dabble in the many markets available in local outlets, it’s time to get started. Take a new look at your surroundings and try to see the simple, everyday things that might lead you to an idea that was right there in front of you all the time.


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