One of the perks of being an author is writing for magazines, newspapers, and other publications. Getting anything published is a privilege; writing about your own subject matter is a bonus! My novel – Almost Sage – is about a woman who sees voices, tastes words, and feels sounds on her skin. As such, I’d love to write articles about “practicing synesthesia.”
In this sample magazine query letter, I reveal how I’d pitch an article to a natural health or healthy living magazine (I actually sent it to the editor of alive magazine, but haven’t had a response yet).
If you have any questions about writing query letters for magazines – or about synesthesia – let me know below.
Discovering Synesthesia (Sample Magazine Query Letter)
Tasting words, seeing voices and feeling sounds is normal for people with synesthesia. This cognitive trait occurs when a stimulus (such as music) activates two or more senses. For example, a synesthete might hear the song “Stayin’ Alive” and taste a blueberry milkshake, see orangish red colours dance, or smell rosemary-flavoured chicken tenders. Or—in rare cases—all three!
Synesthesia affects up to 4 percent of the population, but many synesthetes don’t realize how unusual they are. To some, it’s normal that each letter of the alphabet is a different colour. Others think everyone knows that, for example, the number seven is flirtatious and unpredictable but eight is studious and organized.
“Synesthesia is actually a normal brain function in every one of us,” writes Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., M.F.A. in Synesthesia (MIT, 2018), “but its workings reach consciousness in only a handful.”
In “Tasting Words and Seeing Voices: Discovering Synesthesia” (1,200 words), I will:
- Describe synesthesia research, including its links to autism, creativity and memory.
- Share research-based experiences of “true” synesthetes (many non-synesthetes or neurotypical people understand that “cheese tastes sharp”, but authentic synesthesia can be reliably measured in the brain).
- Offer practical ways for readers to “practice synesthesia” to increase presence, mindfulness (awareness), and enjoyment of routine experiences.
The third point, I believe, is the key takeaway for most readers. While it may be interesting to read about people who see colours when they hear music, it’s even more interesting to experience for ourselves what a song might smell, taste, feel, or look like!
Here’s why I’m excited about this topic: I’m writing a novel about a woman with synesthesia. Immersing myself in her world—“practicing synesthesia”—has made me more aware of sounds, flavours, touches, and odours.
When I eat my sushi poke bowl, for example, I let the flavours of wild salmon or shiitake mushrooms bring forth different colours, textures, shapes. When I hear the sushi chef chop veggies or call a greeting to new guests, I dip into my body and allow sensations to arise. Do the voices tug on my earlobe or make the soles of my feet feel itch? What about the bell above the door—does it spark a colour or shape?
In my experience, practicing synesthesia is a powerful, immersive, creative way to experience the present moment.
My physical environment has more depth and nuance, and the electronic world is flatter and less interesting. I’m more aware of my body, and less likely to be distracted by thoughts of the past or worries about the future.
Research shows that brain exercises can help with pain control, increased creativity, and improved neural connections. If practicing synesthesia is a type of brain exercise—and I believe it is—then it’s a novel way to wake up sleepy neurons and take them out for a romp around the block.
Note that “practicing synesthesia” is not a scientifically studied cognitive exercise. My suggestions in this article are based on my personal experiences. Further, synesthesia cannot be taught or learned. It is is a cognitive trait that is passed down genetically (though it can be acquired after a stroke or brain injury).
I hope this gives you enough information to consider commissioning an article for the July 2022 issue on brain health. If so, I can have it to you within two weeks of assignment.
Are you an aspiring freelance magazine writer? You might be interested in 11 Most Popular Types of Magazine Articles – Print & Online.
Updated to Add…
A week after I emailed my pitch to write an article about synesthesia to a Canadian health magazine, I received two questions from the editor. Here they are, and my answers…
2 Questions about the query letter…
1. Are you saying that based on your personal experience, although research says otherwise, that you believe we can all practice/discover synesthesia?
Yes, we can all practice/discover synesthesia—and this doesn’t oppose the research. It’s just that we can’t become truly synesthetic. A non-synesthete can’t change the brain to become a true developmental synesthete (someone whose brain automatically and consistently cross-activates when perceiving certain stimuli), but we can experience the world in deeper, more interesting ways. This can increase how present and mindful we are—and perhaps even our increase our brain plasticity.
Here’s what one synesthesia researcher says (he calls it “unmasking cross-sensory connections”, but I like the term “practicing synesthesia” because I want to tie it to presence and mindfulness, which both require practice.):
“A more common and easier way to unmask the implicit cross-sensory connections that we all have is to substitute one sense for another—a line of research first published in 1969 by Paul Bach-y-Rita,” writes Richard Cytowic, M.D., M.F.A., in Synesthesia (MIT Press, 2018). “For instance, we think of the tongue as a taste organ. But it is also loaded with touch receptors, making it an excellent brain-machine interface.”
Babies are born with a jello mass of brain neurons that haven’t separated yet. The brains of some people—synesthetes—have not “pruned” or separated into distinct areas with neurons that do specific things. So while neurotypicals or non-synesthetes can’t re-mash the brain areas, we can experience the world in fresh new ways.
Cytowic cites research that shows that if you blindfold volunteers for two days, their primary visual cortex will suddenly respond to touch, sound, and spoken words. This means they will “see” a touch, sound, or word even though they are blindfolded. Their brain changed to adapt to the environment.
So, while we can’t become a true synesthete, we can increase our awareness of how we see, taste, hear, feel and move through the world. This is what I call “practicing” synesthesia.
2. If synesthesia cannot be taught or learned, how does one adopt practical ways to “practice” it?
An interesting way to “practice”—which I haven’t tried yet—could be the Dark Table in Vancouver and Toronto. This experience would tie in with Cytowic’s statement about the tongue having touch receptors. The Dark Table is a blind dining restaurant, started in Switzerland by Jorge Spielmann. He’s a blind man who invited his friends to eat with him blindfolded. “His guests enjoyed the experience immensely, and claimed that when their sense of sight was removed, taste, smell, hearing and touch were amplified to the extent that the social act of eating took on a whole new meaning.” (http://www.darktable.ca/about.html ).
Other ways to practice:
- Georgie O’Keefe painted music.
- Long before I discovered synesthesia, I’d pretend I was playing the piano while typing on the keyboard.
- My band teacher instructed me to imagine bright colours, like yellow or orange when I’m playing high notes on my flute. He said imagine browns and blacks when I play low notes. Coloured music! That’s a great way to practice synesthesia, and I didn’t even know it!
For noncreatives—and getting back to mindfulness and presence—I’d highlight my newfound love of seeing sounds and smelling colours when I go for walks. Eating has also taken on a new dimension, and so has standing in line at the grocery store.
Questions or comments about writing for magazines, fiction writing, practicing synesthesia? Respond below…