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    How to Keep a Column Flowing

    You're so excited. A newspaper editor has accepted your column proposal. You submitted four sample columns to get you started. You're bubbling over with ideas and think you'll never run out of material.

    Then after two or three months, the newness wears off, you have to come up with a new column weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly. The work sets in and the ideas slow down.

    How Do You Keep Ideas Flowing?

    Now you wonder how you'll find material to keep your ideas flowing and the columns written. This is turning out to be more work than you bargained for.

    Don't lose hope.

    I've written a cooking column for more than 30 years for various publications, a quilting column for 10 years, a consumer column for 20 years, a gardening column for 10 weeks, a regional history column off and on for 20 years. I've had to use various techniques to keep the ideas flowing.

    Techniques to Try

    Try some of these:

    • Make a list of topics for the coming six months, preferably a year. Sometimes an editor will ask for this before agreeing to your columns. When an editor suggested I write a gardening column for a weekly summer magazine, she wanted me to submit a list of the column topics I would be using.

    • Continually be on the lookout for column ideas. Wherever you go, whenever you're with other people, when you're reading or watching television, keep atuned to topics you can use for your column.

    • A phrase, a picture, a conversation, a description in a book or magazine may serve to spark your imagination and give you an idea for yet another column. Keep a little notebook with you for writing down these ideas before you forget them.

    • Ask readers what topics they'd like to know more about. Encourage questions which you will answer in the column or research for a column.

    • Read other columns on the same or similar topic. You don't do this to copy, but to get ideas. You might come across a phrase which stimulates your thinking and gives you ideas based on your research and background.

    • Before you propose a column, make sure you are knowledgeable enough to write about this topic week after week, month after month. When I was asked to produce the gardening column, I had never written this type of column before.

      However, the editor, for whom I'd written many articles, asked me to consider it.

      "Have you ever done gardening? Do you and your family have a garden?" she asked.

      Yes, I grew up on a farm where we had a large garden each year. My husband and I had raised a garden many of the years of our marriage even though our present abode didn't lend itself to gardening. I had many gardening books in my library.

      "You can do it for the summer," the editor remarked. "It's only 10 columns."

      Since that column was a short term one, I decided I could do it because I had experience in gardening and had the research at my fingertips. (This was before the days of Internet research.)

      By putting down a list of topics for the columns, I wasn't at a loss for something to write about. I found I enjoyed the experience and occasionally still write articles about gardening.

    • Change the format of your column to include interviews, if you originally hadn't planned for this. Sometimes you might use a single interview for your column. Or you can include several viewpoints, ideas from a number of people, depending on the topic and format of your column.

    Enjoyable Venture

    Column writing can be a very enjoyable venture. However, it does take more work than some writers are aware when they send a proposal to a newspaper, magazine, or web site. Use some of the above ideas to keep your columns flowing.

    Copyright © 2001 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen is a journalist, columnist, children's writer and book author. Her many publications are listed on her Web site --

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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