The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Article writing - the article

You sent your query to an editor. You got a message back that says, “Sure, I’d be happy to take a look.” Now it’s time to write the article. No problem. After all you’ve got the whole article written in your head. So you sit down at the computer, pull up a new document, and...



It was so clear a moment ago.

I’ve found it is often very hard to translate ideas to words. Your creative right brain comes up with the idea, but your rigid left brain has to put it into terms other people can understand. I don’t know about you, but the two sides of my brain don’t get along well.

Now it’s time to think back to all those things you learned in school. Scribble down some notes. Organize them into ideas. Create an outline. Turn the outline into an article.

Sometimes I can sit down and write a decent first draft off the top of my head, but I’m discovering that is rare. Formalizing the process helps me to write a more coherent article.

Eventually you get a first draft. So you go over it again and make revisions. One trick I find helps is to read it aloud. It’s very easy to skim over words because you already know what it says. Reading aloud forces you to listen to the sentences and spot the ones that are clumsy or just plain nonsense. It can also be helpful to get someone else to proof your work or to put it aside and come back to it a day or two later.

Length is something to think about as well. If an editor asks a specific word count and your article is significantly off, that's a strike against you that may get the article rejected. As a rule, it’s better to target a word count greater than what you need. It is easier to remove material than to add it. If an article comes up short, it might be time to rethink the concept, maybe approaching the subject from a broader perspective. You are probably better off rewriting from scratch rather than trying to add a paragraph here and there. This is not high school. If you pad your article, the editor will spot it.

Once you are happy with the content and length of the piece, it is time to proof for spelling and grammar. Although word processing software has tools to help you, I find grammar checkers to be completely useless. They are wrong far more often than they are right. Spell checkers are helpful, but nothing replaces good old-fashioned human proofreading. Proof it at least twice. Then proof your first paragraph a couple more times. Then proof the first sentence a time or two. The best writers make mistakes, and editors understand that. But if you have a typo in your first sentence, you’ve just blown your first impression. Even if the rest of the article is fine, the first thing the editor sees is a mistake.

Once you are satisfied, send it off. Just like with queries, don’t wait for a response. Start your next project.

I guess I’m not going to get to talking about rejection today after all.


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