Zibby is joined by successful essayist, columnist, and writing instructor Estelle Erasmus to discuss WRITING THAT GETS NOTICED, an upbeat and wise guide to finding your voice, writing stellar pieces, crafting the perfect pitch, and getting published. Estelle shares insights from her three-decade-long career in publishing, teaching at NYU, and contributing to Writer’s Digest, offering practical advice for both novice and seasoned authors. She discusses strategies for generating new ideas, shares anecdotes about her own career, and encourages aspiring writers to surround themselves with supportive communities. 


Zibby: Welcome, Estelle. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss writing that gets noticed, find your voice, become a better storyteller, get published. 

Estelle: Thanks so much, Zippy. Great to be here. 

Zibby: I love that you have a whole section in your book about interviewing, and here I am interviewing you.

So you can, you can take apart my strategy, whatever you need to do. You're the expert here.

Estelle: I think you're an expert interviewer because I've listened to enough of your programs to know that. 

Zibby: Well, I love how you open up your whole career, your life, your daughter, all of the things that made you into who you are and made you the expert, which of course is one of your strategies for, you the pitching author is to be, how to present yourself as an expert.

Tell listeners about why you wrote this book, why you're the one to write it, and then we'll go into like specific advice. 

Estelle: Yeah, I really wanted to distill my three decades of experience in publishing on both sides of the publishing wall as an assigning magazine editor and editor in chief and somebody who's also written for a lot of publications.

And been teaching at NYU and for Writer's Digest, I'm now a contributing editor at Writer Writer's Digest. 

Zibby: Amazing. And there's so much in the book for anybody who wants to write an essay or wants to be, and you even go through the different types of essays that you can do, reported pieces and personal, all of the things.

What's one thing that people who are like out there and they wanna be. published and they don't know where to start. I love, maybe we could start with all of your inspiration ideas because you have a lot of those too of how to get going and how to get the ideas flowing. 

Estelle: Yeah, I mean there are so many scientifically proven reasons why people can generate ideas and so I cover some of them in my book I think I cover like 20 of them and one of the things is if you're struggling to get the words down on the page in the first place change the format you know we're all told like to do times 12 roman and you know it's.

Do it on Comic San, or even handwrite it, because that tricks the brain into feeling a different way, and it lets the ideas flow. It gets us to that state of flow that we're always, as writers, as you know so well, are trying to get to. Other things is, you know, people have always said, Oh, I get my best ideas in the shower.

Well, there's a reason there's a scientifically proven reason it gets you into the beta wave pattern where you can, you're more open to the ideas. And in terms of idea generation, listen to where, what your friends are talking about. Listen to those conversations that you kind of can eavesdrop on. Set up Google alerts for topics that you're interested in.

And that's the thing, Zibby, that before I started researching the book, I had talked to a lot of authors for articles I wrote for the New York Times, Washington Post, and a lot of parenting pieces as well. And a lot of authors said to me; when I start a book, I set up a Google alert for any of the ideas in the book that I'm covering.

"A", it might get information to me that I need, like a new study or a new survey. "B", it starts me thinking of different ways of looking at material. And as writers, that's what we're looking we're trying to have curious minds, because curious minds will let the information in, and we'll be able to continue our creative work.

Zibby: Wow, so important, and I just loved it. I feel like I'm not usually the lack of ideas, but maybe good ideas or, you know, one thing you said, which I hadn't thought of, is how repetitive motions help you come up with ideas. Like even something simple as folding the laundry, sometimes I feel bad if I'm doing something else.

You know, and even when you said, like, your brain has to take a break. Last night I watched the Oscars and I'm like, I should be writing my next novel, but I really just want to watch this. I really just want to watch and I have to, like, give myself a break. So how do you know when to push and when to take the breaks?

Estelle: Yeah, I talk about in the book that, watching bad reality television, first of all, you're thinking, my problems can't be as bad as that. The other thing is our brain is always working. So for the people who say, "Oh, I have to write 350 words every day because 350 words a day is a book a year". I mean.

Look, I'm a mom. You're a mom. You know, it's just impossible. It's so hard to do that. I'm what I call, and what I learned from Anne Hood, who was a guest on my program, Freelance Writing Direct, and you've been a guest. And Anne said she's a volcano writer, which is, it bubbles up, and then she writes. And I find that I'm like that too.

So don't put a certain construct on yourself, that you have to do things a certain way. Find different ways. I started my career at Women's World Magazine where I had seven deadlines a week. Well, you know what? I was writing. I didn't have, we didn't have iPhones then, but you know, I was writing on scraps of paper.

I was, and what I learned as a mom when my daughter was little, that I would be on the pickup line and I would write to mine, you know, in the notes app of like, you know, the phone, even before the iPhone, you know, the first smartphone. And so just don't let anything constrain you because your ideas are valid.

You're going to find out, learn how to pivot. I mean, I've pivoted so much my career, right? I mean, I started in print and then print started dying and I went to online and then I dealt with infertility. And I learned about blogging through listen to your mother and the bloggers were the first ones with social media.

Nobody else was doing social media, but the bloggers and so on, so on. And now we have TikTok, although I think the government's going to take it away, but on your mailing list, keep your, you know, I've kept both MailChimp and Substack. So, you know, keep everything because you just don't know and you need the things that you have.

Look, you, you've created so much Zibby. I mean, you're amazing. I've known you for several years now, and you've just created an empire. And we're going to talk more about that for Women's Media Group. But, uh, You know, it's just keeping everything in motion and being open and setting up those Google alerts back to the Google alerts is a great way to just keep expanding your mind.

And also I talked in the book about doing mining your life for ideas. So like a mapping template, you know, and one of the things I do when I have my class at NYU or writer's digest or coaching, is I say, look; write down everything who you are. I'm a mom of four. I've created a publishing... I'm pretending I'm you, Zibby... I've created a publishing.

Zibby: Do it all day. I'll be you, you be me. I could use a break for myself. 

Estelle: I have a viral article that just came out in Vogue about my, about my marriage. So You can write down all those things and you start seeing where your areas of resonance and passion is, and then you connect it to what's going on in the news.

You look and you see, okay, let's say, and this isn't you, but let's say I'm obsessed with bowling. Right. And maybe some celebrity just came out and they said, "Oh my God, my best, you know, I created the idea for my Oscar winning movie when I was bowling." There you go. You have a timely hook now that you can tie in to whatever it is that you want to write about about bowling.

And I did that when I was obsessed with Penny Marshall, who was Laverne and Laverne and Shirley. We're both busty. And she but she had a lot of chutzpah. And I was I was nerdy. I had my nose in a book. I was singing in the hallways. I was not popular because I was just my own kind of airy fairy person. And I just looked up to her.

So I wrote about it when she died. But you know, with a celebrity dying, you have to be right there on the wave. And I missed it. I missed the boat. That was 2018. She died. I set up a Google alert for anything having to do with Penny Marshall. I was like, what, you know, anything. She was the first hundred million dollar movie director.

She did big, she did like a league of their own. And all of a sudden in 2021, I received notification on my Google alert that a league of their own, the series was coming to Amazon prime. And I said, that's it. That is my timely peck framed my pitch to the editor of the Ethpol. AARP, the Eiffel, 60 million circulation.

Estelle: And I sent it to her and she said, yes, you know, just make sure that in your essay you have this, that, and the other and scenarios I already had that because I had written the essay and it got in. So four years after she died. 

Zibby: Wow. I thought you were going to say we need Google alerts for everybody who dies and try to make it all timely.

I'm like, that is, I'm like, that is dark, Estelle. That is like... 

Estelle: That is dark, and I wouldn't recommend that, but I wouldn't not recommend that because, like, people said to me, Oh, I had, I had a incident where I met Tony Bennett, and I said, did you pitch when he died? And they're like, no, because I hadn't written it up. I'm like, write it up. You know, that one you could have written up and had ready. Now, not everyone is walking around dealing with celebrities, right? So it's going to be very rare that somebody's going to have that. But, you know, if you've had life experiences, have them ready to go and then see what they connect with.

Zibby: This is when I took one, a writing class, like years and years ago, I was surprised by Sue Shapiro. You do, you must know, anyway. That's one of the things she said in the beginning is like, find your timely thing. Like people are only going to pay attention if it's timely. Tell everyone you're pitching. It's timely. You know? So I still sometimes do that. I did that like last week about International Women's Day. And I kind of chuckled to myself because I'm still using. What she taught me, like, I have a timely thing about International Women's Day, you know, you have to use it. 

Estelle: Absolutely. And Sue, I have a funny story about Sue.

I was the senior editor at American Woman magazine, and I was looking for an end of the book, funny story about Barbie. Barbie. I was reaching out and somebody said, Sue Shapiro loves Barbie. And I'm like, who is this writer? And we got in contact and I hired her to write a funny piece about, but I have to find that piece.

I have to look. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Yeah. Tell me about your advice about writing your own six word memoir. 

Estelle: I do that. I teach a micro memoir course and I, I get people to hone down who they are in six words. It's kind of like a thinking process. It gets you to identify what's important to you. And so, you know, it's really interesting.

Like I think I said, midlife mom finds self in writing, editing or something like that, or in motherhood. I don't remember what I said. And so it's an exercise that starts people, especially if they're going to write micro memoir, which is, you know, like tiny love stories in the New York Times, it's 100 words or less, and it really is a full story.

It's a story from the past because it's micro memoir. It's not necessarily flash. And so it takes a stir from the past and it has a narrative arc, a beginning, a middle and end. It's not just a fragment. It's not just a poem. It's an actual story. And so starting with the four, five, the six words, I mean, I think the most famous one was, oh my gosh, who is it?

It was the one that, you know, baby shoes on worn Hemingway. Hemingway wrote it. Yeah. And so in that, those six words, it's like a story of a lost baby. And so people struggle with it a little bit, but it does help encapsulate their ideas. What would you do, Zippy? 

Zibby: Oh, for six words? Oh my gosh, "tired traveler tries podcasts with expert".

Estelle: A podcast entree way to empire empire mom finds podcasts entryway to publishing empire. 

Zibby: Oh, okay. Well, anyway, okay. I like it. I like it. So it's one thing when we have the ideas, right? And we are narrowing down our voice based on who we are. The writing itself, I feel like people struggle with this.

How do you make sure your writing is clear, is not attention getting, but how do you differentiate yourself from the eight bazillion other authors? Writers out there who were also pitching that day or, or once you have the article, what is your advice on making it the best it can be? 

Estelle: Yeah, so here's one of my things.

I'll talk about pitching first, and then I'll talk about essays. So when you're pitching, even if you're pitching an essay, sometimes the editor won't read the whole essay. They want to be enticed, right? So I say something in my book called Write to the Reader. Which is taking that first paragraph of whatever you've written, which supposedly is going to be a wonderful scenario with an anecdote with something happening. That's going to entice the reader into the story and use that and show the editor that this is, I have an essay about here is the first paragraph. Paragraph or here is in a substantial part of it. And you don't give a lot, but you get the first paragraph. And they will see a couple of things.

They'll see how you execute, because with editors in an essay, it's all about execution. And in something that your voice is going to be important, which is an essay, because that is who you are on the page. With an article, It often has to be journalistic, but I also talked to my students about how to show their voice in the page.

You have to insert yourself into the story somehow, and you can do that in a subtle way. Otherwise, you're just reporting on something. I'll give an example from my own life. 

When I pitched the editor of the Times for how to bully proof your child back in 2019, I framed it around a story about my daughter. An incident where she was bullied because I framed it around that and then I went into the journalistic elements and the interviews and all the service examples, which is service journalism, which is most of what's out there today, which is ways to improve your life and your situation because I put myself in the story. That way, or I put my daughter in the story. That's why Good Morning America, which I know you're regular on, you know, had asked me to come on the show because it wasn't just me reporting on everybody else. It was something. And the reason I wanted to write this is because I was a mom because it was important to me.

Estelle: And when I was interviewed for the well newsletter, I was like the only person interviewed. I think after the story went viral, I talked about, you know, When I was younger, I was bullied and I went to the guidance counselor and so lunchtime, I was sitting by myself in the guidance counselor's office having lunch and she said that, you know, you have to look at it as if it's a free country.

You have to let people, you know, people can say something, but you have to show that. You're your own person. You have to stand up, but you can't be angry about it. You can't be mean about it because then you're the bad one. And so I learned something about role playing in that situation that I did with the guidance counselor and later on, I was able to use that when my daughter was in a situation where she was bullied. I felt it was important for me to write about it because it's been such a big part of my life and it was something that I wanted to teach my daughter and make her kind of able to handle it because bullying happens our whole lives.

It happens in college. It happens in adulthood. It's doesn't go away. So if you learn ways to handle it and look at it, I'm sure you've seen this, the trolls come out when you're on, when you write an article, it, it's going to happen, but you have to think of it this way.

If you're in Central Park or in Times Square and somebody comes up to you and says, you're an idiot, you're a bad mom, you're this, that, they don't know you, they don't know who you are. They're not in your life. So you really kind of have to have that. that journalistic shield in a way, and then you have to use that in your regular life.

And I hope I'm explaining that. I mean, if everyone can look at the essay, they could see a lot of what I was talking about. 

Zibby: What was the worst time you were bullied? 

Estelle: Oh, um, let's see. I would have to say that I never felt like the cool kid, because I'm not. I'm not a cool person, you know, I always wore my heart on my sleeve. I'd walk around singing. And so I never fit in, of course, you know, all those people are now like my Facebook friends and follow along with it. But it's okay. You know, the best, what did they say? The best revenge is doing well, you know, and being happy and having a happy life and being surrounded by love and by good people.

And I'm a big advocate of that, that's why I support my students and I'm inspiring to them. And I want to be a source of inspiration, which is a big reason back to your original question, Zibby, is why I wrote the book. You know, I really want to inspire people. I want them to feel with the short bites that I give on my Estelle's Edge throughout that they can do this, that they can make it happen as long as they build their craft and learn, how to get notice, get attention for their work.

Zibby: Well, another thing related to you know, childhood experience or whatever, is you write about how to deal with writing about actual people and not burning the bridges that you have. And how do you, how do you carefully, you know, document things when you have to deal with those relationships ongoing? What is your advice there?

Estelle: It's really hard because, you know, you have to, you have to reveal, but you also conceal. So you don't let every single thing out there. And I had talked to Kelly McMasters and my program was, you know, on your program and your book, you know, one of your reading books, the book for your book club, and she had said that, you know, there were a lot of things that she didn't have to reveal.

She revealed what was important to her story. And I felt the same way. So you're not going to find every single iota of what happened with the situation, but you're going to find the gist of what is important. I'm a big believer, and I know Sue says this too, not to trash anyone more than that you're trashing yourself.

So like, you have to show your vulnerability on the page. And to me, it's the mark of an amateur writer when they're just trashing someone over and over and saying how bad the person is, but they're not taking any, you know, it's a, it's a relationship usually, unless it's somebody in a power differential.

So I would say when you're revealing something. You have to think about whatever it is you unleash on the world, be prepared for it to be unleashed back on you. So when I started out writing about my daughter, I was never like Deuce, you know, Deuce, one of those bloggers they would write about, you know, my kids are driving me crazy. I hate them. I know, so sad. 

Zibby: Did you use that as a hook and write an article about it? 

Estelle: No. I did not. I didn't know her. I know a lot of people did. I know a lot of people did write about it because it was news. It was newsworthy. 

Zibby: It was sad. It was so sad. 

Estelle: It was very sad that she dealt with depression, but she was also open about dealing with depression and was one of the first ones that opened the door.

Because back to before then, it was very sanitized. So there's a reason, you know, bloggers kind of opened the door. But I never said my kid sucks. I, and when I wrote for the Washington Post, my child is out of control. Here's what I'll do to fix it. I put the onus on me, right? She is having rage. She's having a tantrum because she saw me having road rage when a mom cut in front of me in carpool, you know, or she's eating too much sugar because I'm a chocoholic.

And so I didn't ever want it to be there. We're saying at some point, kids are going to sue their parents. For the things that they read about them. And I do believe that could be happening because as the kids age, from the early bloggers, that was like 2006. You know? And beyond it is a possibility. But I always made sure to not write, you know, my daughter's a jerk.

Yeah. I also made sure, you know, I wrote about my dad, you know, Singing My Dad Back To Me. He has Alzheimer's, he's very far gone. Now. It's not that, uh, singing is even gonna bring him back at all, which is very sad, but I'm glad that I wrote that testament to him because he's such an important part of my life and he was such a great dad, you know, he's gone now, even though he's alive, he's gone now, but I will always have that I wrote to him and to our relationship. And to me, you know, that's what being a writer is, that being able to tell our stories and to touch other people with our stories. And I want that for my students. And I want to keep that, keep doing that for myself. I have so many stories to tell. I was the dating diva and, you know, and, and going through dating and how I met my husband and, you know, not of my tribe and all these things.

So I have more stories to tell. And so do my students. And I know you have a ton of stories to tell. It's just a wonderful seeing them all come to life. And I love your novel. 

Zibby: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Um, actually, that was so poignant what you just said about your dad. I don't know, touched my heartstrings. I have to go read that essay. I didn't read it. I'm so sorry. I know I just spent the weekend with my mom at this writing conference. And I feel like I have to, I have to write about it before I forget, you know, because I'm not, I'm already forgetting because I'm so bad anyway. But I don't know. I did notice, by the way, in your, in your book, how you were talking about how you wrote about your daughter and out of control and then how she's still out of control and da da da da, and you're like, and now she's a teenager, so I don't write about her anymore.

And I was like, oh, that's the conversation I want to hear. 

Estelle: I actually did write about her. So there was this book that I wanted to write for a long time and I haven't really written about her. Like, I wrote a toxic friend, toxic tween friend story. For good housekeeping a couple of like maybe two years ago, but I started at framing it with her in it.

She didn't want to be in it at all. I took her out of it completely. It was a strictly kind of fun tongue in cheek journalistic. However, there's something that I'd wanted to write about for years and didn't have the courage. I'm hearing impaired. I've been wearing hearing aids since like decades ago and it's genetic.

My mom has it. My grandfather has it. And parenting a teenager when you're hearing impaired, I mean, you get the snark, you know, teenagers can be snarky. It's part of their process of separating from us and becoming their own person. And I understand that, but I wanted to write about it because I finally found the courage in myself to do it.

To not feel that I was gonna be shamed or feel old and, you know, left behind or anything like that. So I did my research and I pitched it to Shondaland, which sadly is not taking personal essays anymore, which is such a loss. And the editor who had done my editor and call series at NYU, which I created, accepted it and said, yeah, you know, this is I've never seen this written about in terms of parenting.

And so I wrote about it, but my 14 year old daughter vetted it, every single word she read it. She looked at it and she said like one thing she changed. She's like, "ehh" and I said, okay, but she really was a big part of the process so I feel very supported and I don't think I'm going to be writing about her anymore because that was like my one thing that I needed to get out there.

But I don't think I will. I mean, I, you know, you never know. She may come to me and say, Hey mom, write about me. And actually she in turn herself into a beautiful writer, which is just such a surprise because she wants to be a doctor. 

Zibby: Okay. As we wrap up, not only do you have all this advice, for writers, but now you've written the book about writing.

So on the book side of life, what advice do you have for authors of nonfiction books like yours that we might not have known? 

Estelle: I think that craft is so important. So take a class, you know, take a class at the School of Professional Studies, where I teach at NYU. Take a Zippy class. Take a class for Writer's Digest, where I also teach.

Find a teacher that you want to do some one on one coaching with. I think it's very important to learn how, if you're going to write a book, a book is a different structure than a short piece, because it takes a lot more energy, as you know, and it takes really being able to structure it. In the right way.

And so on my podcast, freelance writing direct, I get a lot of actionable advice from the writers on how they are structuring their books. There's the shit no one tells you about writing. There's your podcast, which is fabulous. There's so many other places. Let's talk memoirs. There's so many other places where you can find this very valuable information.

And I also think I'm a big believer and you've seen in my book, Zibby, that no one defines your reality but you. I have been told you can't have a kid in your 40s, right? Like you shouldn't have a kid in your 40s. Shouldn't get married in your, in your 40s. You can, you have better chance of being, you know, having a terrorist attack you than like finding someone in your 40s.

I've been told you can't teach on the college level if you don't have an MFA. I've been told, and what I was taught; Don't go up to David Pecker and talk to him about his empire that he created Hachette the Lepache back in the 90s. And to everyone, I said, you know what, you can tell me. What you think my route reality should be, but I'm going to define my reality and nobody else.

And so if you want to write that book, write that book, put your energy towards it. I'm a big believer, as you know, from the book in energy, right? Where we put our intention, where we put our focus, that's where our energy goes and our creative energy. And I think learning your craft, learning your skill and making sure that you're being open to the universe. I know this sounds very like hot pie in the sky, but the universe sometimes will direct you like a lot of writers say when they're writing, my character took over. Like maybe Pippa took over while you were writing blank and maybe you wanted to write about her friend, but Pippa was taking over.

Well, that really does happen. And what it is is, you know, our own intuition, our own creative energies, that kind of confluence between, you know, what we don't understand. "There's more to heaven and earth ratio than meets the eye" is a famous quote. I really do believe that. So I believe being open to your own inspiration, surrounding yourself with people that support and Accept you is so important, you know, because again, you know, uh, there's something like, um, a high wave lifts all.

Zibby: Rising tide lifts.

I'll shift. I know. I say that a lot these days. 

Estelle: Yeah, you want to be around those people and you know, the difference when you're not because it drags your energy down and hold you back. Here's my writing advice and my life advice from three decades of publishing. Don't let anybody hold you back.

Zibby: I love that.

Estelle, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. 

Estelle: Thank you, Zibby. 


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