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Lessons Learned

Take the Smallest Stories

gold_thumb.jpgYou never know to what riches a “small” story might lead an inquisitive writer.
Take the Smallest Stories

Mediabistro Course

Mediabistro Job Fair

Mediabistro Job FairLand your next big gig! Join us on Janaury 27  at the Altman Building in New York City for an incredible opportunity to meet with hiring managers from the top New York media companies, network with other professionals and industry leaders, and land your next job. Register now!

How to Write and Cast Your Awful Film

awfulfilm_thumb.jpgA publicist reveals the tricks of the trade to get your movie made. Think lots of liquor, cigarettes, and actresses with sex tapes, and you’re on the right track. (Image from
How to Write and Cast Your Awful Film

My Dinner with Judith (Regan)

regan_thumb.jpg A potential book pitch goes awry as the former HarperCollins editor ignores the topic at hand and rails on the men in her life instead.
My Dinner with Judith (Regan)
All Features

MB Alumni: Anastasia Ashman

anastasia ashman.jpgWhat course did you take, how did you hear about the boot camp and why did you decide to take it?
I took Parris Island Journalism Boot Camp with Victoria Rowan, Fall 2001, eager to reinvigorate – and focus — my writing career after being laid off from a trade magazine editorship. I wanted to make the shift from writing for others to writing for myself. Also, like many writers who have not explicitly studied journalism or the business of writing, I knew I could benefit from a more professional approach to the craft.
Did it lead to any assignments, connections or jobs? What did you learn?
One week we interviewed newsworthy acquaintances and tried to sell the profiles. With that material I published a profile/book review/event announcement in the Village Voice — the managing editor’s hybrid idea when I emphasized the curating work my multimedia poet interviewee was doing at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and an upcoming performance there of a new Brion Gysin book. Thanks to Victoria’s pragmatic ‘so-what, why this audience, why now’ coaching, emphasizing these elements of my pitch set my subject at the helm of an upcoming event where avant garde artworld legends would be appearing. The right story for the right audience. I also understood from Bootcamp that I had a time hook most appropriate for a weekly newspaper like the Voice. The editor’s suggestion entailed a lot more work but Bootcamp taught me that if an editor was gracious enough to tell me exactly what he could use all I needed to do was accept the challenge. As Victoria explained, “We’re here to eliminate the reasons an editor has to reject your work.”
MB’s Bootcamp not only offered operable information about writing and selling in seven genres (personal essays, travel, op-ed, business features, profiles and reviews and tone-dependent pieces like the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town), it underscored the importance of astute portfolio building to get a writer where she wants to go. I benefited most from Victoria’s deconstructive clarity about composing and selling nonfiction writing — and today it is appreciable how much I learned about piloting a writing career.
Anastasia M. Ashman is the co-editor of TALES FROM THE EXPAT HAREM: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey, a bestselling book in Istanbul, where she currently lives with her Turkish husband. In March 2006, Seal Press will release the anthology in North America. Anastasia’s personal essays appear in THE THONG ALSO RISES (Travelers’ Tales September 2005) and, alongside prominent New York writers like Calvin Trillin and Jonathan Lethem, in THE SUBWAY CHRONICLES (Chamberlain Bros. May 2006). Anastasia continues to draw on Victoria Rowan’s coaching as she writes a cultural memoir: BERKELEY TO BYZANTIUM: The Reorientation of a West Coast Adventuress.

MB Alumni: Mackenzie Parks

Mackenzie_Parks.jpgWhat MB class did you take?
I took the 12-Week Novelist Class with Max Ludington.
I ended up securing an agent, and just last week, I sent her my first rough draft of the entire novel!
How did you hear about the class?
I’m a Mediabistro AG member, and I always checked to see which classes were being offered.
What did you learn?
I came to the class having no experience with creative writing. I’m a journalist, and I had no idea how to go about writing something that had to be completely made up! The class really helped me to structure my ideas and start putting it down on the paper. It also helped me approach writing something that was longer than the 1200 word articles I’m used to writing!
How did the class help you with your work?
Max was great, but I also really came to rely on the comments from my classmates. They were so helpful, and provided so many different perspectives.

MB Alumni: Nancy Chilton

nancycdhilton.jpgWhat class did you take?
I took MB’s Personal Essay Boot Camp with Steve Friedman this summer.
Output: Article in the New York Observer.
What did you learn?
The 8 week class began with writing exercises that focused on inspiration, voice and technique. Then we all brought in marketable story ideas that we teamed up to pitch Steve who played the EIC heavy.
He helped us ID the best ideas from the dross, and then had us write pitches to specific editors who might run our pieces. For the last class, we wrote and workshopped our most marketable idea. Mine was a piece I’d started writing months before about buying a fur coat at the J. Mendel sample sale, only to have my husband tell me to sell it on Ebay.
How the class helped me do what I did:
I used techniques I’d learned in class, like writing about a sensation without naming it, to juice up the piece. Steve did some great on-the-spot editing that night. I went home at 10 pm, did the rewrite, sent it to the NY Observer the next afternoon, and had an acceptance by the following morning. The piece ran two weeks later.
Steve was an honest, creative teacher who helped me tackle my problem with endings, clean up nebulous descriptions and amp up conflict in my stories. The other writers in the class were generous in sharing their talent and suggestions.

Back to School, Part 4

I teach at the University of Illinois at Chicago on occasion, and let me tell you, if I knew as a student what I now know as an instructor, I’d have a Nobel Prize by now. Here was one amazing discovery: university librarians know a lot about research. All those years ago, I thought they were glorified clerks.
What do research librarians do while undergraduates are snubbing them? They prepare research guidelines – lists of resources that can be used to get information on a specific topic. Just because you are not on campus doesn’t mean you can’t use them.
The National Library of Australia has guides to resources on Australia’s culture and people.
Rutgers has a detailed list of business and finance research resources. Some databases site are available only with a Rutgers ID, but you may be able to get to them through your public library.
Interested in the environment and related design issues? Cal-Berkeley has prepared this comprehensive compendium.
For international affairs, the United Nations has a guide to using their materials.
By the way, all of these were found through a simple keyword search for library research guides.

Back to School, Part 2

We writers not only need to work on our craft, but we also need to learn about subjects that we might want to write about. Between the public libary and the Internet, one can study just about any topic in extraordinary depth, but suppose you want more information in a more formal setting? And suppose you don’t want to spend any money in the process?
You could check out what your community college offers, but I have a few suggestions that will keep your butt at home. Barnes & Noble offers a series of free online courses. You are encouraged to buy the necessary texts through B&N, but no one is forcing you to. I took one session that was huge, so I quickly blew off the course participation. Still, the syllabus and planned assignments kept me organized.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a more ambitious program. Its OpenCourseWare gives you access to course materials for a wide range of its academic offerings. You do not have access to faculty, and you don’t get credit, but you do have a structure for tackling technical subjects on your own. Word2Word offers free online language courses that can supplement conversation classes. And, to help you run your business better, the Small Business Administration offers a series of free business education courses.

Back to School, Part 1

The day after Labor Day is one mourned by schoolkids everywhere. Sure, some kids have been back for almost a month already, but even the most air-conditioning-challenged urban districts are back now.
Many folks whose school years are long behind them (ahem) continue to organize their lives around the school calendar. For them, September is a time of renewal, and that may include continuing education.
This week, I’ll cover some different educational options for writers. Naturally, I’d be in serious trouble if I skipped’s own course offerings. These courses are in-person and on-line, in New York and Seattle and places in between, and they range from the intensive to the quick seminar. Claire has conducted several interviews with MB Alumni that can give you more information.

MB Alumni: Kelly Watton

What course did you take?Media Bistro Boot Camp for Journalists with JoBeth McDaniel in April 2003
Output:An essay I wrote for class was published in The Seattle Times. It will also appear in an anthology called Stories to Live By, which is due out later this month.
How did you find the class?I found it online at
What did you learn from it?
I learned how to craft a great pitch letter. And as a great bonus, I connected with other writers in Atlanta, and we’ve stayed in touch.
What did you glean from the class that specifically helped you with your article?
The class workshoped the essay I wrote, so that definitely helped me with the story. Their encouragement gave me the push I needed to get it out the door. JoBeth specifically recommended I send the piece to Travelers’ Tales, the company that’s publishing it in their anthology.