This New York Times business page titled: “Tracking the $700 Billion Bailout” reminded me of an old comic I did during the 2008 financial crisis.

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Most people who know me have heard me mention this phenomenal website: Free Rice, and now I’d love to share it with more people.

I love words.  Reading, speaking or listening to words is a moving, thoughtful and engaging experience.  For others it may be reading to their child at bedtime, the last conversation with a loved one, or  hearing words of encouragement after a bad day.  Words have meaning that can draw out various emotions from us.  And this is how I ended up finding Free Rice, which is a site that tests users knowledge of words.  The site is great for writers (or anybody for that matter) to use for two reasons.

One – You’re learning.

Two – You’re helping out a great cause at the same time.

Free Rice is the sister site of Poverty.com.  And through partnerships with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Program, Free Rice is able to make donations of rice to feed millions of people since the program started in 2007.  If you’re looking to improve your vocabulary and love to help a good cause then you should visit the website.  It’s fun, free, easy and another way to make a difference in somebody’s life—just by clicking away.

And you don’t have to spend a lot of time playing the vocabulary game to make an impact.  For every correct answer Free Rice donates 10 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Program.  Now that may not seem like a lot.  But, when you consider that the organization has helped to feed so many people already that’s when you realize just how many people are playing.

If vocabulary isn’t your thing, don’t worry.  The site offers other subjects that you can test yourself in such as geography, math, art and science.  Free Rice provides its users with a chance to learn and make a difference at the same time.

So, what are you waiting for?  Spread the word around and watch how learning can help change the world.  Now that’s food for thought!

The road to becoming a freelance writer is far from being easy.  But if you have a niche area that you are passionate about and aren’t easily discouraged by the first mention of “No, thanks!” by editors (and several more nos after that) — then you have the basics: thick skin and determination, which are key to beginning your journey toward a career in writing.

Like many aspiring magazine writers, I had no published articles under my belt.  And without any academic or work experience in journalism and publishing, I had to start from scratch.  All I had to start with was my health background and interest in writing.

The idea of breaking into magazine writing has been a trying experience: Well, I tried and nothing happened.  But, once I took the time to collect myself and get organized things started to work out.  I developed a strategy and committed myself to following through with my plan. So, how did I get an editor to take a chance on me when I had no clips?

Here are the practices I used to build my writing samples.

BECOME INFORMED: First, I signed up with Writer’s Market and MediaBistro.  Being able to access information on various publications has been a huge time saver.  As I’ve learned not every section of a magazine is available to freelance writers since some are reserved for staff writers.  Rather than blindly pitching to a magazine, I can use these member websites and the magazine’s guidelines for writers to get pertinent information.  This allows me to craft tighter queries, get updated information about editorial staff changes, and include the section where I think my piece would work well (e.g. front of book).  I’ve found that adding a particular section shows that I am familiar with the magazine and that I’ve done my research.

KNOW THE MAGAZINE: What works for one publication may not work for another.  So research shouldn’t be limited to online resources alone.  Walk into any Borders or Barnes and Nobles and take a look at the magazine section.  There are so many magazines out there that the idea of researching them sounds crazy.  But, it is an important skill that will save you a lot of time.   Reading magazines provides me with a sense for its style.  My writing focuses mostly on health and family topics.  So when I visit a bookstore I pretty much know what magazines I like to check out.  Also, libraries are a great place to review magazines you’re interested in because you can look at many back issues.  I did this for a magazine I was interested in pitching a story to and realized they had previously covered a similar topic.  I saved a lot of time and energy by researching because I didn’t send off a query about a topic that was already covered a few months before.

SPREAD YOUR WINGS: Consumer magazines are hard to break into without clips.  That’s why it’s a good idea to reach out to smaller publications.  Linda Formichelli has a couple of posts on her website on breaking into smaller publications, click here to check one of them out.  Another option is to do an internship to build your clips.  While most of these are for college credit, some internships may apply to those of you who aren’t in college.  Mediabistro and Ed2010 are two websites that may help you find an internship or writing opportunities to get you started.

By being flexible in my options and aiming for trade magazines, I have been able to make more progress in getting work.  I have contributed a few articles to a local magazine and it has been helpful in building my clips. If you’re worried about how long it’ll take to break into magazine writing the answer is – it varies and depends on the type of markets you’re trying to break into.  But I’m positive that with the proper focus, goals, and a healthy dose of reality (meaning be patient given today’s job market) you can still achieve your goal of writing for magazines.

Jumping into the trenches of freelance writing doesn’t have to be this endless journey of rejections.  With a little patience, preparation and practice you’ll get that first clip and the next one after that.  Getting your first clip requires that you clue yourself into the dos and don’ts of magazine writing, and remain flexible regarding the markets you target.  Once you’re a pro you can command the scene more and just drop a line to an editor (I hope) about an idea for their next issue.  But, until then keep working to secure good clips!

And if you’re in need of a good laugh or a chuckle, check out my comic today on coping with rejection.

It’s been two weeks since I signed up for a Twitter account and posted my Two Week Twitter Challenge.  With 50-plus tweets and 16 followers, I’ve learned the following:

  • Although there is an “I” in Twitter, it’s not meant for me to tweet away about all things concerning moi.  Yes, I’ve been tweeting things that concern my blog and comic strip.  However, I also make it a point to share some of my non-writing activities too (e.g. My plans to decompress during the weekend, and last-minute Mother’s Day shopping plans), which I think is important to breaking up the monotony of tweeting about work-related things and being personable too.
  • Interacting with other twellows (Is that already a word, it probably is?) is important to building connections that are meaningful.  Dropping a line to support another tweeter’s writing success, to answer questions, or to retweet posts has helped me to meet some new people online, and it’s been great.
  • There are people on Twitter who follow me (and many other people).  But, they don’t have any tweets…at all.  I know I’m just beginning to understand how Twitter works for writers.  But, I have a sneaking suspicion that not having any posts at all isn’t good Twitterquette.
  • And I think a good lesson for me has been learning to keep it short—saying something meaningful in 140 characters or less (and this includes spaces) can be difficult at times.  Thank goodness for Tiny Url!  But it’s been helping me to remove all the fluff in my writing and say what I mean.

Well, two weeks is definitely too soon for me to build a large community of tweeters who share similar interests–and besides this isn’t a popularity contest.  I look forward to growing, and I appreciate the people who are following me and posting tweets that are funny, engaging, personal, and educational.

When it comes to building connections online using social media platforms like Twitter, I’m looking forward to meeting more people online who enjoy sharing information and interacting with me (and hopefully isn’t a social media bot).  In the meantime, I’m enjoying meeting twellow writers (fellow writers who tweet, get it—no, too much…okay), promoting my blog, sharing my life and research interests, and finding useful tips. What has your experience been like on Twitter?

Well, see you around in Twitown!