Crib Notes: Everything Grows

By Abigail Green

Here in Baltimore, spring is in full swing. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and my toddler is learning not to pick the ones in the neighbors’ yards. Unfortunately, not many flowers grow in our yard because I have a black thumb. You might say gardening and I go together like kids and cauliflower. I like to think that I do my growing in other ways — say, by continuously growing as a person, a mother, and a writer.

When you are self-employed — as freelancers are, by nature — growing as a writer is not a given. Most of us don’t have editors pushing ever more challenging assignments on us, or suggesting we mix things up by penning poetry along with our standard nonfiction fare. So it’s up to us to seek out opportunities on our own.

I know a magazine writer who challenged herself to write a novel. She signed up for a night class, got some books out of the library, and joined a fiction writers’ group. A year later, she had a finished manuscript that she’s now circulating to agents. Another colleague keeps her humor writing fresh by performing stand-up comedy now and then.

When I have felt my own writing getting stale – starting every story with a question, ending every article with a quote, using the same phrases over and over -I know it’s time to shake things up. So I got into travel writing as a way to learn how to write descriptive prose. I got into blogging as a way to develop material for my essays and find out which topics resonated with readers. I even attempted some fiction to learn the art of writing dialogue. Alas, I abandoned my budding novel before it began.

But that’s OK, because each new venture helped me grow as a writer. By reading and studying and listening and writing, whether on my own, in a class or at a lecture or workshop, I learned new skills to bring to my work. I learned that captivating leads are essential whether you write fiction or nonfiction. I learned that dialogue can spice up an essay. I discovered that unusual comparisons are key to humor – for instance, “My new baby keeps me busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest” is much funnier than “My new baby keeps me busy from sun up till sun down.”

Sometimes growing as a writer might mean taking on an assignment that’s outside your normal range. Maybe you could try your hand at a book review, a how-to article or a feature-length piece if you usually write shorts. Maybe writing press releases or web content could teach you to be more clear and concise in your magazine or newspaper writing.

Give something new a shot this spring, writer mamas. Yes, it might wither and die on the vine (like my would-be novel), or it might flourish and grow into something more beautiful than you ever imagined.

Abigail Green is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 10 years, she has written for national, regional and online publications including AOL, AAA World, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. Her latest project is raising her first child, which she chronicles in her blog Diary of a New Mom


2 Responses to “Crib Notes: Everything Grows”

  1. 1 anniegirl1138 May 8, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    I like writing outside my box. I entered a detective story writing contest to force myself to work in a genre that was uncomfortable for me and to work on foreshadowing and plot.I sent my first sci-fi story off to a an honest to goodness serious sci-fi magazine (haven’t heard back yet). I write poetry when I want to practice creating vivid, tight images.

    I don’t think a writer should ever limit herself.

  2. 2 Carren May 22, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for that thought-provoking post. I’m just starting out freelancing and I’m not yet a mom, though it really does clarify a lot of things reading your entries. 🙂

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