On Writing. Plus: Blog hop! Showcasing some of my favorite bloggers

A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Maureen Jenkins (aka Urban Travel Girl) asked me if I’d participate in a “blog hop.”

I’d heard about this whole blog hop thing on the blogging circuit, and as I watched it make its way from one blog friend to the next, I was impressed by the momentum I saw chain-linking around the world.

Also, I adore Maureen. We met on a trip to Pamplona, Spain and I am in awe of her travels and her impressive career (check out her bio below and you’ll see why). Plus, knowing that Maureen works a full-time job, while also freelancing and traveling, I knew I had absolutely no excuse not to do a blog hop if she was asking me to do it.

So here we are.

For those who aren’t yet familiar with blog hoppery, here’s the deal. In order to participate, I agreed to recruit three other bloggers to join in and keep the hop going. I’ll be answering a handful of questions about my writing, below. When I’m done bloviating (or would that be blogviating?), you’ll find links to five (yes, five!) blogs. One is Maureen’s, the others belong to four of my favorite bloggers who agreed to keep the hop hopping. (I went above and beyond the requisite three, because why stop at the minimum, right?).

Here are my musings on my muses:

1) What am I working on/writing?

In April, I wrapped up work on my biggest and most challenging project to date: I wrote the Frommer’s Easy Guide to Chicago, which will be out next month (!). It was an enormous amount of work/labor of love, and I’m really proud of the book. I feel like I earned an advanced degree in Chicago studies in the process, as I toured multiple hotels a day (eight was my record) and ate my face off anywhere and everywhere, often sneaking in a double dinner along the way.

Since the book has been put to bed, I’ve been working on all kinds of assignments. Recently, I started writing for the site Schools.com and am working on a couple of pieces for them on great places to go to college, whether majors matter, etc. In other arenas: Last week, I published a piece on a holistic nursing care facility that’s doing some forward-thinking work in Vermont. In the last few months, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing for Crain’s (most recently this piece on artisinal ice). I’ve been writing up a storm for a site by GM, called DrivetheDistrict.com (to wit: Punch is the New Martini in Chicago) and some other clients I have through Contently, including Chevy, a site by Zillow called Hot Pads, and Ancestry.com. I just wrapped up my first piece for Hemispheres magazine (more on that when it publishes in September) and another super cool travel piece I can’t yet talk about is running soon in the Chicago Tribune. Oh, and I just found out that a piece I wrote recently about a Memphis sno cone stand for the Washington Post ran in New Zealand (I think the editors over there should give me a regular Americana column). And I’ve been working on a couple of books, both of which are ghostwritten, so I can’t go into the details. But I will say that in the future, I’d love to work on more books.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

Genre? Ha! I used to think that I had a particular specialty, but that was more than 7 years ago, when I worked on staff at a magazine, and could just about always write about whatever I wanted. And I did! Highlights from my Vegas years included worm-farm schemes, wedding chapel wars, bike-alongs with Mormon missionaries, testing “safe rooms,” hanging out with a pig farmer, embedding myself in Mary Kay cosmetics and the list goes on. Back then, I considered my genre the “freak beat,” because of my love of subcultures and modern anthropology. But all that’s changed since I went off on my own. It’s harder to sell those pieces as a freelancer, so I feel like I’ve channeled my study of humans into food and travel writing, while also working on culture, education and wellness pieces. My true love, though, will always be in-depth profile pieces that examine what makes someone tick.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I think that all writers share a sense of curiosity and our profession allows us to explore that, dignity in tact (for the most part). So many of my stories have started out with an “I wonder if….” “Why does….” kind of conversation. As a writer, I can explore those questions and answer them, while throwing out a cool word like bloviate along the way. A lot of times, I really think that my reporter’s notepad acts as my security blanket, and lets me into parties and situations where I maybe wouldn’t otherwise be. It keeps me removed, but involved at the same time. But most of all, I can always say “it’s for a story” to make myself seem less weird.

4) How does my writing process work?

A lot of writers love the rush of deadlines. I hate that rush. I do everything I can to avoid it and usually turn assignments in considerably early (example: this is supposed to publish Thursday. I’m putting it up on Tuesday. And this is voluntary/fun). I’m a planner, in general, so if an assignment comes my way, I usually start working on it as soon as humanly possible. I do whatever interviews/research/site visits are necessary, and then I close myself into a completely quiet room, shut out the world and write, write, write. Usually, there are interruptions for carbs–chocolate, chips, whatever is in the house. Sometimes I sneak a nap in. Or maybe a run. But when I’m working on a big story or project, I plan ahead and clear my schedule entirely for the day or two–no phone calls, nothing–and plug away.

Looking back at the guidebook writing, the biggest challenge was the immensity of the work at hand. The research, itself, was challenging enough. And then came the writing. We’re talking in the 70,000+ word range. So day after day, week after week, I would work work work work work, and still not feel like I was making any progress, because there was just so much left still to do. But I did it–ahead of schedule, too (by a couple of days). Today, I’m still amazed at how easy it is to write a 1,500- or 2,000-word feature. Prior to the guidebook, it seemed much more overwhelming.

And now, meet my chosen blog hoppers! Check out their fabulous blogs and revisit soon, they’ll be recruiting their own bloggers and answering these same questions.

Maureen Jenkins

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Maureen Jenkins is an award-winning writer, freelance Travel and Lifestyles journalist, and global Communications professional who’s visited nearly 35 countries and territories. This citizen of the world also has lived in Florence, Italy, and spent a year living in Samois-sur-Seine, a charming village near Paris. Maureen muses about all things travel-related—whether outside the United States or near her native Chicago—in “TCW Travel Connection,” a blog she writes for Today’s Chicago Woman magazine. A passionate believer in the ability of travel to not only transform the way we see the world, but ourselves, she encourages black women to “live globally through international travel” in her personal blog, UrbanTravelGirl.com. During her career, Maureen’s work has appeared in online and print publications including CNN.com, About.com Luxury Travel, EBONY and Jet Magazines, Ebony.com,
Black Enterprise, Working Mother, Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, Today’s Chicago Woman, The Oregonian, Arizona Republic, and the Charlotte Observer.

Lisa Lubin

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Lisa Lubin is an established travel/food writer and three-time Emmy® -award winning TV producer. She is a travel industry expert and has appeared on WGN-TV and Good Morning America. After more than a decade in broadcast television she took a sabbatical of sorts which turned into nearly three years traveling and working her way around the world.  She documents her (mis)adventures on her blog, LLworldtour.com, with photographs, videos, and articles from the road/train/rickshaw/camel.  Her writing and photography has been published by American Way Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Smithsonian, the Malibu Times, Encyclopedia Britannica, Orbitz, and Huffington Post.  Lisa also owns LLmedia, a media & video consulting business. She has spoken about video and journalism at several conferences including the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), the World Travel Market in London, the New York Travel Fest, the Women in Travel Summit, and “Visit Russia” in Yaroslavl.

Katie Morell

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Katie Morell is a professional writer with more than 10 years of experience. Based in San Francisco, she writes about a variety of topics ranging from entrepreneurship and general business issues to travel and health. Her background includes working as a Detroit-area crime reporter, political correspondent from Michigan’s capitol and editor at a national business travel magazine. Katie entered the world of freelance writing about five years ago and today writes for USA Today, Hemispheres, American Express OPEN Forum, Consumer’s Digest, Diversity Woman and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, among others. Her work also includes ghostwriting, blogging for companies and corporate communications. Katie’s first book, Stolen Identity: What Everyone With a Name, Birthdate and Social Security Number Needs to Know Now, was released in July 2014. For more on Katie, visit www.katiemorell.com.
Judith Nemes
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Judith Nemes is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years experience writing news stories and features for many consumer and business publications including the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today’s Green Living Magazine, Michigan Avenue Magazine, Edible Chicago and GreenBiz.com. In recent years, her work has focused on green/environmental issues and urban/corporate sustainability. She also writes abut food, travel, health care, and general business topics. She recently wrote a weekly column online for Crain’s Chicago Business called “Green Scene” that covered the local green economy. She also writes for corporate, trade group, and non-profit publications and has been a ghost blogger for corporate executives. She’s an Adjunct Professor in the Journalism Department at Columbia College Chicago, and a board member and officer of the Association of Women Journalists — Chicago. She received an M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., and a B.A. at Vassar College. Check out her web site: http://judithnemes.com/ and follow her on Twitter @JudithNemes and Google+: JudithNemes.
Science of Parenthood Blog (Jessica Ziegler and Norine Dworkin-McDaniel)
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Science of Parenthood was created by writer Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and illustrator/web developer Jessica Ziegler. Once upon a time, Norine met Jessica at one of those “it stays in Vegas” holiday parties — which actually sounds a lot more salacious than it actually was. A little while later, Jessica had a kid. Then Norine had a kid. Then Norine began developing a series of science-y/parent-y ain’t-that-the-truth-isms. Then Jessica came in and scribbled all over them. And Science of Parenthood was born. Norine and Jessica are not Nobel Prize-winning scientists … though they play them on the blog. Fortunately, Norine and Jessica are both married to their own adorable geeks, who explain all this science-y stuff to them at those times when recalling the laws of thermodynamics on three hours of sleep is simply too tall an order.
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