No, that’s not a trick question. It is the question I get when I tell people I write for Advance Magazine for Nurses, The Art Times Journal, MD News and The Equine Journal.
The answer is really simple. A good writer can write about anything!
Good writing is not about being an expert in any one subject, although that can make it easier but it also limits your freelance opportunities to just that one area of expertise. Good writing is all about knowing how to write. The basic elements of hammering out an article, a brochure, a corporate report and even a short story or a novel are about the same:
- Select a topic. Getting an assignment from an editor makes this easy. The more you write on a topic, the more ideas you will get on your own.
- Get a handle on your audience. You won’t write the same way for teenagers that you would for adults or the same way for engineers as you would for bankers. Your target audience will help you to find the right voice and vocabulary to use.
- Do your research. No matter how often I write about horses or web site planning or healthcare, I ALWAYS do research before I ever contact anyone for interviews. TIP: if you are writing an article, make sure you save documents and sources so you can cite them.
- Determine which sources, which people you want to interview. Your research may help with sources; your editor may as well. And as you build experience in a subject area, some of your professional acquaintances my help, too.
- Conduct interviews. My editors don’t care what I think or know. They are looking for insights and information from industry experts. That’s where interviews come in. Interviews will form the meat of your article. TIP: I always record my interviews to make sure I accurately represent what the subject matter experts have told me. A small digital recorder that connects to your cell phone makes this incredibly easy. I got a TinyTEK from www.pimall.com and have been using it for 4 years.
- Type up your notes. Why you ask? There are two reasons — it makes it much easier to find an answer while you are writing if you can word search or scan a type written documents rather than notes on a legal pad. Secondly, typing the notes actually begins the process of writing. My brain, my subconscious, starts to put together connections and write the story while I am actually typing the notes.
- Read your notes then walk away! Vacuum. Mow the lawn. Do something mechanical and repetitive and wait for your brain to begin the magic of writing.
- Clear your desk off. Get a cup of coffee or tea. Sit down and begin to write. Write quickly, almost in outline form, inserting quotes from the notes and creating the beginning, middle and end. TIP: if you are having trouble getting started just think to yourself, “What am I trying to say? What story am I trying to tell?” Then tell it.
- Read your first draft OUT LOUD. That’s right, read it out loud and you will instantly find places where the language doesn’t flow or the logic doesn’t work. Mark up the draft, revise it and read it out loud again.
- Follow this process and edit until you are comfortable that it is in pretty good shape then read it again and this time ask yourself these questions. Does it tell the story logically? Completely? Compellingly? Does it make you want to know more? Take action?
- Check your references and citations. Make sure they are correct and that the format you use works for the publication you are writing for.
- Ask a “neutral 3rd party” to read the article. You will be surprised what someone who hasn’t lived with the story, who doesn’t really love it or isn’t invested in it, can find. TIP: take the observations, changes and questions with good grace. If this reader misunderstands or gets lost, you can bet the magazine, report, brochure readers are going to misunderstand or get lost, too.
- Make the final changes then, guess what? Read it out loud one more time. TIP: if my gut says, “Don’t send the article right now.” I wait, sometimes overnight. My subconscious is seeing something I am not seeing so I give myself another chance to read it through before hitting the Send button.
- Send your article, report, brochure, short story winging on its way to your editor and get started on the next one!
Follow this approach and you can write about horses, cardiology, surrealism, defense contracting and any other topic.