The Best Books On Writing

Dear writer friends,

I wanted to share a handful of my favorite books on writing. All these books have had a significant impact on myself as a writer, whether it was reading The Elements of Journalism in class at Boston University or weeping and laughing aloud while reading Stephen King’s On Writing. 

Here’s my top six:

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tim Rosensteil • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Other books I recommend for journalists are the Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists by Robert J. Haiman and The Associated Press Guide to News Writing. And for those who need style and grammar guides, check out the Allyn Bacon Handbook by Laurence Behrens and Leonard Rosen — and the book every writer needs, The Associated Press Style Book.

What are your favorite books on writing? xx, marissa




5 Things You Must Do To Break Into Freelance Writing

This past weekend I taught another freelance writing workshop at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, which was attended by a handful of writers who haven’t been published. For those who are interested in breaking into freelance writing, but don’t have any published clips, I’m going to walk you through a few quick steps to help you lay the foundation for a future in writing.

1. Connect with the right people — Whether it’s in your town or across the country, it’s important to get to know people in the industry. Here’s a few ways:

• Join local clubs/groups – Attend industry and networking events to make connections in person.

• Schedule informational interviews – Make appointments with editors to learn about their publication and what kind of stories/voices they are looking for.

• Use social media – On Twitter, follow publications, editors and fellow freelancers. On LinkedIn, connect with people in the industry and follow writing groups.

2. Find a mentor – I can’t stress this enough: having a mentor is key to breaking into freelance writing. They can answer all your questions, provide support and help you navigate this new world. To read about all the benefits of mentorship, read my story on MediaBistro here.

3. Create an online presence – Since you don’t have any published stories yet, you need to create a place where editors can go and read your work. Create a blog where you can showcase your talents. For a comparison of blog platforms, check out this helpful article.

4. Brainstorm story ideas – Keep a journal of story ideas. Start with a big broad list of topics you’d like to write about and then zero in on specific story angles for each subject. Also, keep a running list of the publications you’d like to write for.

5. Pitch stories – Once your blog is up and running with a few posts, and after you’ve come up with a handful of story ideas, start pitching publications. Read my “Intro on How to Pitch Publications” post to learn more about submitting queries to editors. Also check out these online pitching workshops:

• MediaBistro – How to pitch: Start pitching and get published

• The International Freelancer by Mridu Khullar Relph – The Idea Generation Workshop: A step-by-step, proven plan for developing story ideas that sell

If you live here in Richmond, Virginia, check out my freelance writing workshop on August 18. It’s only $35 and it’s jam-packed with a ton of info on the ins and outs of freelancing. Sign up here.


Resources for Women in Journalism

Recently I’ve had several women reach out to me about pursuing a freelance writing career. So, I figured it might be helpful to create a quick list of resources for women who are looking to pursue a career in journalism and are looking for a little guidance along the way. Here you go!

Poynter is offering free 30-minute career coaching phone calls for women in journalism. More here.

The International Women’s Media Foundation has a list of opportunities on their website for grants and fellowships around the world. More here.

On October 12 through 14, 2018, the Journalism and Women Symposium is hosting its annual CAMP (Conference and Mentoring Project) in Oregon. Check out the lineup of events.

For $149, you can become a member of the Alliance for Women in the Media, which includes all sorts of awesomeness like networking events, online discussion forums, along with access to their exclusive job board and research portal. Sign up here.

Also, a fellow colleague told me about this cool e-newsletter the other day. Every month journalist Betsy O’Donovan e-mails out a long lists of fellowships, grants and awards that journalists can apply to in order to help elevate their career. Sign up here.

Also, if you feel like you need guidance as you establish yourself as a writer, consider a mentorship. Last year I wrote a story for MediaBistro on the importance of mentorship in the communications industry with tips on finding a mentor and maintaining the relationship. Check it out.  


An Intro on How to Pitch Publications

Hi there, Friends!

I’m teaching a few writing workshops at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond on the ins and outs of freelancing, and I wanted to share a little sneak peek of my class. Below is an excerpt from my writing workshop on pitching publications. These are just a few things I’ve gleaned over the past 9 years on pitching various magazines, newspapers and websites. In my writing workshop, the pitching segment of the class also will addresses types of pitches (with examples), my pitching pro-tips, how to brainstorm story ideas, and what to do when an editor doesn’t respond to your query.

The second half of my class will address how to turn one story idea into many, along with the writing/editing procedures that follow after you’ve been assigned as story.

Best, Marissa


With the current climate of the media, editors are relying on freelancers more than ever. They are looking to hire writers who are in-the-know and can pitch great stories.

WHAT IS PITCHING? Pitching is sending an editor a story proposal (AKA query) that summarizes what you will write in your story while also explaining why the story is relevant, timely and a fit for the publication.

BEFORE YOU PITCH you need to do research on your story idea and the publication you are pitching. 

    • While researching the subject-matter, make sure you have a specific angle that makes your story unique and authentic. If you want to get on an editor’s radar, be sure you craft story pitches that are well-researched, relevant and insightful. Nothing annoys editors more than broad topic story pitches without a defined angle.
    • Read the publication. Familiarize yourself with the magazines/newspaper/website’s sections. If it’s a magazine, see what kind of stories are published in the front-of-book and features sections. See what columns are regularly featured from issue to issue. Study the publication so you can understand where the story will fit.
    • Scope out the publication’s website and see if they have posted any pitching guidelines or an editorial calendar.


    • Pitches much like stories come in all shapes and sizes. Some are brief and to-the-point and others are longer and more in-depth.
    • When you write your story proposal, make sure all your ducks are in a row, and be prepared to answer any follow-up questions your editor may have. You’ll want to include the who, what, when, where, why of the story.
          • For instance, you’ll want to include statistics and research to back up your idea, list what people you are going to interview, and explain why the timing is right. If you are an expert or have a personal tie to the story, you explain that as well.
    • The style and tone in which you write your pitch is crucial to you receiving the assignment. While your story proposal should be pithy and straightforward, it shouldn’t lack in personality. Write the pitch like you’d write the story.

For more on pitching stories, read my article “How to become your editor’s MVP” on MediaBistro. And to sign up for one of my freelance writing workshops, visit VisArts’ website.

Freelance Writing Workshops at VisArts

Photo courtesy of VisArts

I’m teaching a few more freelance workshops at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond this summer (on June 2 and August 18) and am adding some new content to my class. While we still will be talking about brainstorming and pitching stories, selling your work and the editing process, I’m also going to be touching on how you can turn one story into many (AKA more $$$). Feel free to sign up for the class here, or let your friends know! And for those of you who took the last class, don’t fret, I’m going to update my notes with the new info and email it your way. — marissa 

My workshop on freelance writing

Hi Friends, I’m teaching a writing workshop at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond on the nuts and bolts of freelance writing in February. This three-hour intensive that is *only $35* is for people who:

  1. already know how to write
  2. want to freelance as a side hustle
  3. are interested in transitioning from a staff job at a publication to the freelance world
  4. are college students who feel that their journalism program isn’t teaching freelance as part of the curriculum (which like 99 percent of schools aren’t doing, by the way)

Class description: Learn the ins and outs of freelance writing from a local journalist, who can teach you the art of brainstorming and pitching stories, the etiquette behind communicating with editors, negotiating and selling your writing, and the rewarding editing and publishing process. SIGN UP HERE.

Over the years, I’ve had countless writers reach out to me via email and social media, asking me for tips on breaking into the freelance world. Request after request, it finally occurred to me, this should be a class! I’ve been freelancing for the past 8 years (moving from side hustle to full-time), and along the way I’ve learned some valuable lessons. I can’t wait for this workshop, and to meet aspiring freelance writers. Hope to see you in the class. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the writing workshop. cheers, marissa





My Year In Review — 2016














This past year was my first full tax year of going out on my own. This means I’ll be looking at the work I’ve done over the past year and assessing what stories I enjoyed writing, what publications I value, and what other projects (marketing, social media management, public relations, etc.) enriched my work life. Here’s a little look at my year in review …


Locally, I wrote stories for Central Virginia Home, Charlottesville Home, R•Home, Richmond Magazine, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Roanoke Valley Home, Style Weekly, and Virginia Living. I’ve been blogging weekly for The Knot’s site and writing stories for their biannual DC/MD/VA print issue. I just started blogging frequently for the Swedish-American publication Umgås Magazine, and have been enjoying that gig as it combines journalism with my passion for Scandinavian culture. My lifestyle stories also were featured on Racked and The Scout Guide’s blog.

Copy Editing

I’ve continued in my role as copy editor for The Scout Guide, editing their 60-some city publications before they head to the printer. Through Vitamin T, I was connected with Richmond-based Barber Martin Agency, where I helped copy edit print and broadcast advertising copy as a temp worker. Copy editing allows me to embrace my inner OCD nature. My first copy editing gig was at Media General’s Consolidated Editing Center in Lynchburg, Va., and I’m very happy to continue line editing in a freelance capacity.

Marketing / Content Writing

I’m excited to venture further into the marketing and copy writing world. Any agency’s looking for help? I’m here! This year I worked with Wells Fargo,,,, and Shutterfly’s Wedding Paper Divas.

Public Relations

I work 10 to 20 hours a week with the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts, where I write music center’s press releases and put together program copy. I’ve also been doing some side public relations for Richmond’s new CURRENT Art Fair and Reynolds Gallery.

Social Media Management

While managing the public relations for CURRENT Art Fair, I also ran their Instagram feed, and realized that social media management is a side gig I very much enjoy. As someone who lives on social media, I see what a powerful tool it is for story-telling and marketing.

In 2017, I’d like to:

  1. Have a more organized editorial calendar
  2. Write for new lifestyle publications
  3. Venture more into the copy writing world
  4. Write more about art, culture, design, food, and travel

A special thank you to everyone who has made 2016 a fruitful and exciting year!

xo, marissa