If An Editor Gave You Carte Blanche

Decades ago when my personal essays were just starting to be published, a series of events had me sitting before an editor of Philadelphia’s major newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. I was trying to pitch a story idea I was very passionate about — vital octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians in our city.

“What makes Joan Leof an expert on this topic?” she asked. It was soon clear to both of us that while I was indeed passionate about the topic, I was not an expert.

“IF YOU COULD WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?  

What are you an expert on?”

I was not at all prepared for that question, yet an immediate answer came to mind. Dare I utter it to this total stranger and possible link to rising to the next level with my writing dreams?

I took a deep breath and said, “my battle with the psychiatric system.”

“Explain,” she replied with interest.

After I gave her a synopsis of the deeply personal story I knew I’d have to write some day, she said, “That’s what I want you to write about. That is what Joan Leof is an expert on. I’ll give you the assignment on spec.”

“On spec” means that you are not guaranteed publication or payment. The editor is speculating that the piece will be worthy of publication, but, if not, you receive no payment for your efforts.

I gave it a try. Months later when I handed her the first draft, she told me she had decided to leave the paper. But the story doesn’t end there. There are two important lessons:

1.  Remember the SEED LIST?  “Keep your hook cast…” You NEVER know where the stream will carry you.

2.  That first draft sat in a folder for decades and recently ended up as a major part of my memoir. Your seeds take on a life of their own.

What would you say if an editor asked you,

“IF YOU COULD WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?”

MAKE YOUR LIST!

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