11 June 1957
Upon reading: How to Write and Sell Non-Fiction by Hal Borland.
How I put my children on an allowance:
going to the store – “buy me something” – Alice’s problem too. Go to the store to buy what you want. When the youngster wants “mommy” to buy something – say: “no, not in the store” – but when I finished my shopping you can do your shopping with this nickel or dime.” The prestige value of doing their own shopping, curbs their spending, whining, and gives them responsibility to shop wisely. Helps keep mother’s pocketbook intact.
How I taught my children to understand the value of numbers. Pennies, nickels, dimes. To build into pyramids five pennies worth a nickel to nickels worth a dime etc.
How my children were taught to let me know where they were going. They took off one day. They still call me or tell me when they leave the house.
Working women are letting down their children.
Take, common items maize, salt, cinnamon, spices, cooking items, and who looks into their history – rubber, for instance: how rubber was discovered, its uses, etc. The whole fascinating stories may never be known, but a dozen stories could be written, and most of them would be new to most readers.
There was a time not too long ago when bread was only baked at home – sewing, weaving, which were done at home. Now we go to the store for these items. Most modern youngsters know nothing of this historical information, nor do they realize how recently past were these activities. Also many older folks would understand modern things better. They could also get a bit of nostalgia about the “olden” days.
Ask yourself these questions:
What does it mean?
How can it be used?
Where does this lead?
Who invented this, and why?
Has any effect on human life? If not why not?
The answers will give you leads, either to stories or to areas of research that will provide stories.
Use the who, what, where, why, when and how of journalism, but decide which W of journalism you will slant your article to, always with “why” underlying your theme. The “why” is the summing up of the writer’s own curiosity and the proof of his ability to analyze a situation or character an event or process. Without the why there would be little reason for writing – or publishing, most articles and nonfiction books.
Choose your topic with some regard for reader interest and know what you are writing about
Take any subject you wish. Poke into it, examine it, turn it inside out. Ask yourself questions about it – the answers will give you all kinds of leads, either to stories or to areas of research that will provide stories.
A writer is consumed by one question – WHY?
It is the writer’s function to find out why and tell the reader and it doesn’t matter whether he is writing fiction or nonfiction. He is an interpreter of the world to the readers. Without wanting to know the answers to why, without that basic curiosity, no matter how apt with words he is, he is not a writer. Without wanting to know the answers he has nothing to say.
You may choose any topic for writing. The two basic necessities are that you care about your subject or learn enough about it to make your story different from anything ever written about that particular subject.
A loaf of bread: Topic
History of – story of wheat – bread’s most important ingredient. How bread is baked commercially, a process story. There is a story in how bread is distributed, a sales story. Bread packaging and advertising – an advertising story. Also personal stories – Baker who became entrepreneur. Nutrition story. Varieties of breads. Why they have special appeals in certain regions. The story of the sandwich, a particular use of bread. Nostalgic story about homemade bread, bread and milk, bread and jam, bread and sugar. Story of yeast – the leavening agent of bread. Story of sourdough bread, the standby of woodsmen and pioneers. Story of toast and toasters. Byproducts story in sale of breadcrumbs and ready-made poultry stuffing.
Also on the topic of SHIRT:
“Keep your shirt on” – Where did it originate? Start with the shirt on your back and you can land way back in history, in a scientist’s laboratory, or in the middle of the Mississippi.
Start anywhere and let your imagination go. The materials for writing are all around you. Get an idea and begin to dig for facts. But first start with an idea.
The thought occurs to me – like many of the metals – new – things about companies – one could in interpret to the general public to bring the workings of Corporation closer to the public at large. This could fill a twofold purpose – get information for myself – also – bring big business closer to the public, to create a better understanding of problems of business or how they do serve the public.
Laundries – how food is shipped to cities – how people’s needs are supplied, etc.
As a writer your invaluable possession is your ability to see a story, to write a story, and to make a readers see the story you saw in the beginning.
The daily newspaper is essential – it represents all aspects of life.
The weekly magazine summarizes most of the important events and gives, in one place, the broad picture. It often fills in background perhaps lost or scattered in the daily newspaper.
Then there are general magazines which more and more fill in the background, the WHY, of the news
Getting to the story.
- Fill in your own background. Find out all you can about your subject.
- About a person – see “Who’s Who” in America.
- Newspaper morgue – get out clippings available on your subject.
- Readers guide – follow-up the references there on your subject.
- When you have the background material – go see for yourself and be prepared to ask intelligent questions and understand the answers.
Go to the source of possible on the scene facts: place or man. Write or telephone for an appointment. Small organization – contact man directly. Large organization – contact the public relations department. Tell what material you want. Name them man or men you wish to talk with – what kind of story you wish to write; if possible where it will be published. Suggested date and time, with an alternative.
Suppose it is a “milk” story. Recent price increase has raised more than usual attention about dairymen, milk distributors, consumer, profit.
Know the background. Read major articles in readers guide on milk published in the past two years.
Most people, including myself, do not know what is happening to them in our rapidly changing America:
- Family living has changed
- Live apart.
- Some like it, some don’t.
- Families are not close – to busy buying a house, material possessions – no time to enjoy. others – cost of entertaining to high – scramble to send their children through college is expensive.
Or: It used to be children were seen and not heard – now parents are seen and not heard – child centered world of suburbia. The toll is great – juvenile delinquency – no guidance etc.
Or: Are we becoming so enamored with scientific and material miracles, we have made them more important than people.
How about a short story based on Steve Treer.
Theme: He deludes himself into thinking he wants a place for his kids and a home with a swimming pool – goes into business – works, puts all his money into his business expansion. He makes money, and more money. The story finally shows he is really interested in business and money – not in a better life. Brought up in a tough neighborhood where the whole struggle for life teaches him to outwit, outplay the other fellow – Steve’s jokes on people. Your truck is rolling into the street – It is the game, his desire to have his own particular brand of fun which ties him to his business – not his true needs.
Or Body, the patent attorney who is anxious to make a lot of money to leave his family in luxury, while his son is without a father. Body is too busy with “business”. He meets a woman at a Bar Association meeting. She is more interested in teaching her son how to live a life rather than leave him money. It changes his outlook on life – or does it – is there only a “Point of No Return”.