Tell (and Sell) Your Story in 500 Words or Fewer

“Write without pay until somebody offers to pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.”—Mark Twain

I started down the path to publication more than 30 years ago, sure of one thing: I’d never make it as a woodcutter. My writing had to pay.

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Within two years, I had collected checks for 40 articles. There’s no mystery to it. I simply lived, looked at life in a creative way, then wrote about what I saw, what I experienced, what I learned. Most of those pieces were 500 words or fewer, what editors call “fillers” because they fill out a page in a magazine or a space on a Web site.

Finding topics at home

The most effective ideas come from my family, friends, and experiences. I jot down bits of dialogue, names, dates, places, lone facts that intrigue me, snappy titles, whatever catches my attention, no matter how unrelated it sounds.

Then I play with them until something clicks. For example, one year my family decided to save money by having a ‘stay-cation,’ a vacation at home. Each day we did something special that was fun and relaxing. I wrote about this in fewer than 500 words and sold it to Focus on the Family online.

Other fillers covered topics such as the gift of a second chance after I wounded a neighbor with a thoughtless gesture, my experience hiking to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, how my husband and I celebrate Thanksgiving all year long, and more.

Your turn

Think about the life experiences you’d like to share. How about something on prayer, a lesson you learned through parenting, overcoming grief, the joy of simple living? I’ve written on all these, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same.

Start with a short anecdote and end with a take-away the reader can apply. Write and sell fillers and you’ll never have to saw wood––unless you want to!

Karen O’Connor is a mentor for the Christian Writers Guild and an award-winning author of books and articles for children and adults. Visit Karen on her website:


    • Michael Ehret says

      Loretta: Thanks for the opportunity to, once again, point out how invaluable the Christian Writers’ Market Guide is. It specifically calls out markets for “fillers” and even drills down into types of fillers.

      This resource is available in our store. Once in the store, search for “Market Guide.”

  1. C. William says

    What a refreshing and timely guild, well needed at a crossroads of American need for God’s perspective to everyday life. As an AUBURN TIGER…I’m “All In.”

  2. Irene Olumese says

    Very useful and informative piece. I am glad I found this website. Every budding writer needs a mentor. It is encouraging find access to one through the Guild.

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