The other week I ran an article writing workshop for my writers’ group. I’m not one for speaking in front of a group and so was a bit concerned about how it might go. However, once I got going and the participants started asking questions, I began to relax and enjoy it.
We started off by analysing the pile of magazines that we’d brought with us:
- Comparing staff names on the masthead to the by-lines on the articles to see which were written ‘in-house’
- Looking at the adverts to get a feel for the readership of the magazine
This raised the problem of the expense of buying magazines to search for markets in this way – especially since it’s necessary to read around 3 consecutive (and up-to-date) issues in order to spot the regular columnists and get a proper feel for the content. Unless you live near a large, well-stocked library there’s no easy answer to this – other than begging, borrowing or stealing from your friends. What do other people do?
Once each of us had established a potential market, we brainstormed a list of ideas that we felt might make an article for that magazine – trying to stay away from the obvious well-worn themes. This was the part of the evening that I found really interesting. There was a wonderfully wide range of feature ideas – displaying sides of my fellow writers that I never knew existed. Without giving too much away (because I hope they’re all going to write-up their articles) these included:
- Activities for winter evenings
- Dog-related issues
- The significance of one lady’s mother’s choice of wedding date
- Railway memories
- Multiple Sclerosis
We went on to draft a short email pitch to the editor before the chairman rang his bell and our time was up.
There are a couple of useful blogs that include generous advice on article writing and are well worth a visit:
Remember there are many, many more markets for articles than fiction or poetry – so why not give it a go?
P.S. Many thanks and welcome to those of you that requested email updates to this blog over the past fortnight – a donation is now winging its way to the RNIB.
This post is being brought to you in association with Sally Quilford’s 48th Birthday Celebrations on August 11th 2011.
Many of us whinge that we don’t have enough time to write. Home and work commitments are always getting in the way -I use this as an excuse for my lack of writing as much as anyone. So, here is a 7 day plan that involves writing for just 48 minutes per day and by the end of it you should have a short article all ready to go.
- Day 1 – visit a large newsagent and spend 48 minutes finding your market. Look for a magazine that covers something you know at least little about (i.e. write what you know so that the research isn’t too onerous). Check out the list of staff in the front of the magazine and compare to the ‘by’ lines on each article in order to check how much is written in-house and much is freelance provided. Buy the magazine you think you could write something for. (N.B. In a perfect world you would buy 2 or 3 issues of the magazine over a number of weeks/months in order to get a feel for which articles are regular columns and which are the one-off freelance features that we are aiming at) .
- Day 2 - make yourself a cup of coffee and sit down with a large sheet of paper. Set a timer for 48 minutes and then brainstorm! Dream up as many article ideas as possible for your chosen publication. For example, if you’ve chosen a dog magazine then your list could include ‘How to Choose a Dog Walker’, ’10 Tips for Taking Your Dog on Holiday’ or ‘Famous People and their Dogs’.
- Day 3 - choose which of the articles shows the most promise and spend 48 minutes writing an outline. Include an introduction (not too long – get straight to the point of the article), each point that you want to make and a conclusion.
- Day 4 - pitch the idea, via email, to the editor of the magazine. If you want some help on how to put together the perfect pitch have a look at Simon Whaley’s article here.
- Day 5 - start writing the article. If you don’t want to stop after 48 minutes that’s fine – keep going whilst the enthusiasm is high! Hopefully by now you’ll have stopped looking for displacement activities like cleaning out the kitchen cupboards.
- Day 6 - finish writing the article. Then find someone to read it aloud to – this will help you spot clumsy sentences, missing words, bad grammar etc. (this bit can be in addition to the 48 minutes since it can involve the rest of the family and therefore isn’t strictly ‘writing time’).
- Day 7 - spend the last 48 minutes having a final read through the article and then, submit !
For the purposes of simplicity I have assumed that the above activities will take place on 7 consecutive days. In reality there will probably be a gap between days 4 and 5 whilst you wait for a response to your pitch (fill this gap by starting work on a second idea). It might also be wise to leave a gap between days 6 and 7 so that you can re-read the article with fresh eyes before sending it off.
That just leaves me to wish Sally a ‘Happy 48th Birthday’ and thank her for the challenge to write a blog post based on ’48′.
No, there isn’t a mistake in the title of this post – I really do mean Christmas 2011.
Magazines and newspapers use lots of Christmas themed features and stories but it’s very hard to sit down in the middle of summer and write a tale featuring Father Christmas and snowmen. And how do you motivate yourself to do that article on Christmas Traditions when you’re buying suncream and bikinis? Don’t think you can put these pieces off until the nights start drawing in – by then Christmas issues will have been finalised and will be almost ready to hit the shelves.
If you want to be published during Christmas 2011 you need to start preparing now.
- Cut out and file festive features from magazines and newspapers. The same Christmas topics come round year after year – you need to give them a fresh angle, a different viewpoint or add some fresh research of your own. Use the cuttings as an ideas springboard to go off on your own tangent – don’t copy them!
- Study the short stories in magazines. Make a note of which publications go for the cute and cosy stories and which like something a little bit more realistic. Look at the types of characters in the stories and the settings.
- Start a new notebook and label it Christmas ideas. Put one idea on the top of each page and work forwards through the book for fiction ideas and start at the back for articles. In the lead up to Christmas flesh out each of these ideas as much as you can with bullet points about what you might include in the article or how the story plot might develop.
- In those lazy days between Christmas and New Year, push the Quality Streets to one side, turn off the television and write a couple of those stories or articles. It will be much easier to do it now whilst the tree is still up, the weather is cold and the radio is playing Slade.
- Get out your new calendar, diary or phone and make a note to revisit these finished pieces in the summer. Proof read them and then get them submitted in good time.
If you’re really stuck for ideas here a few links to get you going: