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.
Why is it that so many people think that business writing has to be serious?
It has to be accurate. It has to meet business objectives and move people to take action. But it does NOT have to be serious or boring or flat. In fact, business writing should be just as enjoyable to read as a good novel!
Take business plans, for example. Business plans are written to get funding — private or public but it’s still all about dollars. What if I told you that the business plans I wrote had banks fighting to see which one would be chosen to fund them? When the head of the Northeast Regional Business Council read the plan for Lizza Fine Art – www.lizzafineart.com, her only questions were, “Where are you and how much money do you need?”
When you get a look at the summary and excerpt you will see that it gives all the information that lenders need to make good business decisions but in a way that makes reading the plan enjoyable.
Storytelling is one of the earliest forms of communication. It is how history was recorded before pen and ink, before Gutenberg and the printing press. When writers stop thinking about assignments and start thinking about stories, work moves from a chore to a delight. Writing becomes a place where curiosity is rewarded, where learning about someone or about some new technology or technique is exciting and challenging not just something you have to do.
Try to remember what it was like in 3rd grade when the teacher asked students to write a story — how easy it was and how quickly words met paper. Now try to apply that same freedom from over thinking, worrying and following the rules to storytelling and see what happens.
Writing for The Equine Journal doesn’t pay a whole lot of money but it pays a whole lot in satisfaction. It offers me an entree into the people, the products and the businesses that make up the equestrian world and lets me learn about something I love — horses — and get paid, too.
It also gives me a chance to practice storytelling, whether it’s a cover story on an English Shire horse named Samson or a feature article on how to buy and sell equine real estate. Check out these articles and see what I mean about thinking about writing as storytelling.
Communication is communication. Sometimes writers forget that.
Whether you are writing for magazines, for blogs or for businesses, the finished product should be easy and enjoyable to read and move people to buy, sell, call, contact or contribute!
Brochure, newsletter article, sales slick or business plan — when someone puts the piece down, he or she should know what the point was and what to do next. If they don’t, what you have written has failed.
Best advice? Tell a story!
All writing is really story telling whether it is fiction or non fiction. I started in radio news and moved to television news and no matter what I was told to cover, it always came down to telling a story!
I have been writing for more than 30 years now and I still find myself stuck sometimes. But when I take a deep breath, review my notes and relax, the story that is hidden in my head starts to write itself. Then all I have to do is let my fingers hit the keyboard and tap out my tale.
It’s just as easy if you are writing for business. Do your research. Interview your experts. Type up your notes then start writing. Remember that stories have beginnings, middles and ends and so do brochures, newsletters, business plans and sales slicks. All you have to do is remember the objective of your story and include a call to action.
Oh and one more old news axiom that has helped me innumerable times – Tell em what you are going to tell em’ — tell ’em and then tell ’em what you told ’em.
Monday morning after the Christmas holiday and I am diligently trying to get my blog off the ground! For a woman of a certain age…this technology is both easy and difficult. I set up categories for my 2008 articles and uploaded close to a dozen Equine Journal articles but can’t figure out how to attach them to one of my categories or move them from my Library to my home page/side bar.
Will keep working on this and, maybe with some help from my NetPlus Marketing colleagues, get it all straightened out.
Writing resources, tips, articles and information will be the cornerstone of this blog.
I am just getting started on blogging and I am very excited about it. I read blogs. I love blogs and now I am going to build one all about one of my favorite subject — writing.
Writing has been a not so secret passion of mine for more than 15 years. I am a regular contributor to several publications and, of course, I am working on a novel. What writer isn’t?
I am looking forward to sharing resources, tips and ideas with other bloggers and writers. Let the words fly!