Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, writing coach, and NYU SPS adjunct writing instructor. Her first job in publishing was at Woman’s World, which she describes as “a bootcamp in service journalism.” She has served in various editorial roles at American Woman, Woman’s Own, and Hachette’s Body by Jake. She also launched the publications Esthetique, Women in Touch, and The American Breast Cancer Guide. In 2019, she wrote a piece for The New York Times, How to Bullyproof Your Child that went viral, resulting in an appearance on Good Morning America. Recently she launched the Freelance Writing Direct podcast with Sherry Paprocki, and moderated the PALA Editor-on-Call event with Allison Klein, Inspired Life editor for The Washington Post. Her new book Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published will be out in 2023 from New World Library. She shares writing advice on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
November 17, 2022
PALA Faculty Spotlight: Adjunct Writing Instructor Estelle Erasmus
What are the key elements of good writing?
- Clarity is Key—If you are not being clear, the reader won’t want to come along on the journey with you. Clarity is more important than flowery language, or using big, fancy words.
- Specific Details—When you provide specific detail in your writing, there is less room for confusion. Instead of writing, “I loved what you did,” write, “I loved the way you sang ‘Landslide’ to me on our first date.” As you edit your work, ask yourself, “Is this language as specific as possible?”
- Words that work—The more common the word, the more readers will overlook it—and your writing. If you want to write the word “happy,” try substituting a different word, such as “elated” or “delighted.” When I was writing a personal essay, I would write the first draft and then go through the essay, substituting more interesting or unusual words.
What are the trends in writing and publishing?
One trend is that people find their own way and do not necessarily go through traditional channels like sending manuscripts out to the slush pile. I speak at a lot of writing conferences, and I recommend attending the ones where you can hear editors speak about what they are looking for. I also notice a trend towards micro memoir and flash fiction. I think it has something to do with people’s shorter attention spans because of social media and the prevalence of digital publishing.
What do editors look for in a pitch?
Pitching is such an important skill. It’s one way to get an editor’s attention in a crowded marketplace. They look for a hook, a compelling title, a few paragraphs covering the who, what, where, when, and why, and the pitch should answer the questions why this, why now, why me? I write the “All About the Pitch” column for Writer’s Digest where I break down pitches and interview editors.
Can you share real-world examples from your classes?
My students get published prolifically. Jennie Burke pitched Defying the Family Cycle of Addiction in my class for The New York Times, and Emily P.G. Erickson pitched and wrote What to Expect When You’re Expecting the Worst also for The New York Times. Other students have written for Next Avenue, Insider, and The Washington Post, such as this piece by Heidi Borst about children and self-esteem, and this one about living in a haunted house by Salina Jivani for HuffPost Personal. I also wrote a piece for WIRED about how I teach high school students in a special program at NYU, using games to keep them better engaged.
Can you tell us about your forthcoming book - who is it geared towards and why is it relevant?
Writing That Gets Noticed is geared toward people at every level of their writing career. In real-world, experience-based chapters, I coach writers to: mine their lives for ideas and incubate those ideas; hone their singular, personal voice; choose the perfect format for their story—personal essay, op-ed, or feature article; protect their psyche from rejection; and more. My writing students proclaim that working with me is like “publishing on steroids” because they get published fast and furiously. This is the book I always wished I’d had.
What are some challenges and opportunities you see in the world of publishing?
I think breaking through the noise is key so you can get noticed by editors (and readers). There are skills and craft to doing that, and I love helping people get there. Everyone has had the experience of being ghosted by editors. I like to help break that spell.
What other projects you are working on?
I’m currently working on a children’s book and a novel, and putting a lot of energy into teaching my class, Writing Micro Memoir, and my upcoming class Writing About Health and Beauty.