Cookin' up another new story

There is one thing I love nearly as much as I love writing: cooking! I find both have a lot in common. In fact, some of the ways I come up with new dishes is precisely the same way I’ve been able to take the basic ingredients of an initial story and “re-cook” them into several fresh and equally tasty articles. It’s sometimes even lucrative to pitch a new angle to an originally published piece to the same magazine. You could get a second and sometimes third run, all based on one initial submission.
To carry the culinary analogy further, imagine an initial story on barbecuing salmon. You write about the foundation ingredient (fish), you talk about the preparation methods, the seasonings and other enhancements and so on, up through the technical details of cooking temperatures and time.
Your next article might be built upon the same base category — cooking — but now you might talk about different methods of preparing your catch, or perhaps offer a selection of herbs and spices that work especially well to enhance fish and game. You might work up a travel piece that takes the reader around a region tasting local variations on a common theme.
“Sell the sizzle, not the steak!” is an old marketing adage that can be applied to retelling as well as reselling articles. Each component of your article, each sizzling bit that enhances the overall story, might be another story in itself. On that note, part of the editing process, especially if you subscribe to the “less is best” tenet of writing, might yield subtopics of the main story that would be better pulled out of the story entirely to serve as a different article’s subject matter.
I’ve been successful writing about outdoor self-reliance and emergency skills and techniques — from basic steps to types of gear and everything in between. Each article has been rooted in the same basic format I’ve learned to trust, yet each subsequent treatment offers a new approach to the theme. One step, for example, is emergency structures. From that first piece have sprung several additional articles — shelter coverings; useful lashes and knots for emergencies; how to make a good shelter bed; using nature’s shelters — and the list is limited only by my awareness of the versatility of the topic.
If I am ever at a loss for a topic to pitch to a publisher I’ve worked for before, I go back to my files and read through stories to see if there are new angles within the original text that can be used to create an updated or expanded or more focused piece. A common example of one good option is a crossover topic, like a piece about a kayak/ destination adventure in a fishing magazine or a review citing the versatility of a hunting product that can be used in a hiker’s environment.
In cooking you can always get by with the same meal time and time again. By changing the spices, ingredients and even the kind of heat you use, you can create so many more delicious entrees. In the writing kitchen, too, changing the recipe based on the main dish may enable you to cook up more and more tasty “meals” (and “dessert” sidebars, too?) — and even help keep more food on the table as well. ◊
Editor’s note: This article previously appeared in the Horizons newsletter published by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoors Writers.
A member since 1988, Tom Watson is from Appleton, Minn. He is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in Alaska, tourism, outdoor destinations and product reviews. Watson is also a guidebook author. Contact him at

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