As a young aspiring author, I often referred to Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Holmes for its writing advice. Rereading it now for the purposes of review, I find myself attracted just as much to the tidbits Marjorie Holmes shared about her personal life. I’ll cover both aspects here.
My having grown up reading writing guides, I tend to these days pay most attention to advice which I’ve yet to hear or at least use. For example, in Holmes’ chapter on ideas, she advises one to write the type of magazine content that one reads. Why? Well, as one reads, one is developing curiosity about the topic, as well as the tone and the rhythm of the format, and even learning how to slant one’s writing to certain markets.
After Holmes gives advice on how to find and hone ideas, she next turns to the specifics of writing particular articles. Under personal experiences, she reminds readers to keep the audience in mind. Holmes shares of having written a fish story that she felt editors would beg for, only to have it repeatedly rejected. One editor finally revealed the reason, stating that few people pursue deep-sea fishing and so readers wouldn’t relate. Holmes revised it to focus less on the unusual venture and more on the father and son who were involved.
Further along in her guide, when talking about how to write essays and columns, Holmes explains her reasons for using present tense and second person. Present tense provides immediacy; while second person allows readers to feel included.
As you can see, her guide overflows with advice on how to always write with publication in mind. Yet from her chapter about how to write controversial articles, it’s also clear that Holmes writes internal passion too. She argued for censorship and praised Christmas letters, not to meet a market need but out of her convictions. Marjorie Holmes both knows how to write from the heart but also to professionally shape her writings.
Being well-acquainted with writing guides, I tend to add to my bookshelves only those with a narrow focus and a lot of personal touches. Writing Articles from the Heart meets both criteria, with my paying special attention to the latter trait during this reread. For example, I discovered that Holmes considers herself a born writer. As a child, her happiest moments were spent scribbling at a desk while other kids played. She could hardly wait for high school, not because of the dates and proms it promised, but because of the magic of learning to type. Two professors provided her with insights on a writing career. The first told her she had a duty to use her talent to create beauty, while the second required his students to submit everything they wrote to paying markets.
After college, Holmes dabbled in radio, but one day realized that writing is all she really wanted to do. She gave notice and stayed home to become a full-time writer. While waiting for the dentist one day, Holmes got an idea for an article as she read Better Homes and Gardens. She rushed home and not only wrote an article the magazine loved, but received an invitation to write more articles for the prestigious publication.
I found of particular interest the anecdotes that Holmes shared when offering the advice NOT to use actual names when writing about real people. One supposedly innocent article about her daughter, which did list her name, resulted in tears at school. Later, Holmes did use her son’s name when revealing his history of being a runaway, but only when he encouraged her that his story might help other teenagers. Through all her revelations, Marjorie Holmes comes across as both a remarkable and real inspirational author.
With her successful career as a columnist, article writer, novelist, and even writing teacher, Holmes definitely has a lot of sound advice to offer. Writing Articles from the Heart, although written almost twenty years ago, continues to provide me with new insights to this day on how to improve as a writer. It’s one of my favorite writing guides.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?