Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 6 of 21)

How do I move from idea to polished manuscript?

1. You start with an idea—one about which you're passionate. Don't try to write an article just because you think it will sell. You need enthusiasm to stay with it.

2. Decide if there is an audience large enough for your article.

3. Do the research. We all work differently, but be sure you know your topic. If it's a personal-experience piece, be as clear on the facts as possible. Ask others who were involved. Research means you gather information and you also figure out illustrations or anecdotes to make your ideas significant.

4. Start building your ideas around a theme. Everything in your piece needs to point to your central idea. I usually write my concept for articles and for books. It helps me stay focused. For instance, a couple of years ago I worked on something about accountability. Here's my premise:

To whom are you accountable?

Most people answer with one word: Nobody.

Everything in that piece had to keep going back to that statement. I had to show readers they needed someone—a friend, a mentor, or a therapist. That led me to state the benefits of relating to someone else.

5. Write a draft. (See the next blog for more on that.)

6. Leave the draft for as long as you can—a day or possibly two weeks. I find a week is usually enough for me to get my mind off the topic—which is the idea.

7. Let the unconscious work. That's part of leaving the draft. Try not to think consciously of its strengths or weaknesses.

8. After a time lapse, edit ruthlessly. Take out every weak word and look for anything that doesn't flow with the topic.

9. You might need to edit more than once. I edited my first article 18 times before I sent it out. (I also sold it to the first magazine to which I sent it.)

10. Send it off. Get it off your desk.

11. Think of a new idea. It's even better if you can think of some other aspect of the topic on which you've written. If you can, you build your credentials and those isolated articles become the basis for your book. If not a book, you become an authority on your topic through magazines and ezines.

I work systematically and faithfully 
because I want to publish.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 5 of 21)

How do I write a good article?

Start with passion. Find a topic that excites you. Let's try something simple. Suppose you want readers to manage their time better. Thousands of articles and books have come out on the topic during the past 30 years, so you want to say something that's different.

What unique insight do you have? You could write a personal-experience article on your winning over procrastination and gaining control. You could write a how-to article (which is the most commonly written type). Go back to passion. What grabs you about the topic?

How about starting with something like the Myers-Briggs Personality Types Inventory? It says that you have a preference for meeting deadlines (a J in their inventory) or you're a P and you don't get close to meeting deadlines without pressure.

Is the passion stirring? Do the ideas flow? Stay with the manuscript. Ponder the concept. If the J personalities don't need the time-management tips, what do you have to offer the P personalities without inducing guilt?

As you ponder the idea you will do research. What have others said on the topic? At least Google the topic of time management and that can help you learn what's been written on the topic.

If I can write an article infused with passion, I know there is an audience for my ideas.

I begin an article with a passionate concept. 
That's the best place to start.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 4 of 21)

What is a good article?

Let’s start with a definition. An article is a short piece that focuses on one idea; a chapter is a short piece that focuses on one idea. In the chapter of a novel, several things may happen but the chapter has a single purpose and stays with it. It's just as true with a chapter of a nonfiction book in which you may explain five ways to avoid a heart attack. All five methods stay with the same theme.

Many writers don't understand that simple premise: Focus on one idea.

Here’s an easy way to see how this works. Pick out two magazines. (I suggest you avoid ezines. Many of them are badly written and poorly edited.) Read three articles in each magazine.

As you read, ask yourself: What is the one point the author makes? The title should help. If it’s a how-to article called "Three Ways to Lose Weight," that points the direction. If it’s something such as "The Day Dad Cried," everything in that piece needs to point to a single, poignant event with no distracting information about where Dad lived when he was fifteen (unless it’s relevant) or the fact that he went to school with Brad Pitt's mother's younger brother.

Open a novel at the beginning of any chapter and the principle works. If you look at books from 100 years ago, they often had a table of contents for fiction that told readers what they were about to read in each chapter.

When I complete an article or chapter, 
I will have focused on one idea.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 3 of 21)

"I'm a fiction writer. I don't do articles."

That may be your problem. If you want to work on short stories, that may be the way to learn the craft, but the market is limited.

Why not start with articles? Even novelists need to know how to construct a chapter—that is, the serious writers realize they need to do more than just write anything that flows through their minds.

Part of learning the craft of writing is to learn the basics. My wife's cardiologist didn't start with his specialty. He studied all the required courses for being an MD. After that, he moved into cardiology.

I want to learn to write.
I'm serious enough to start with the foundational principles.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 2 of 21)

Here are more reasons for starting with articles.

Too many writers want to start with a book without proving themselves as writers first. This is a proven strategy for rejection. Writing isn't something we perfect overnight. It takes hard work and dedication.

Geoff Colvin's research for Talent Is Overrated urges "deliberate practice—a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain."[1]

His research refers to the ten-year rule which states that talented performers don't become great "without at least ten years of very hard preparation, and goes on to add, ". . . authors produce their greatest work only after twenty or more years of devoted effort . . . ."[2]

Think of them as your apprenticeship. You write and sell articles to learn the craft and to understand the business.

More than 100 of my articles hit print before I started a book. I look back at those experiences as my invaluable apprenticeship. I had to find writing time in the middle of my busy work world and I proved I could do it and meet deadlines. In my diligence to publish, I convinced myself that writing was what I truly wanted to do.

Too many writers don't want to put in the grunt work of learning the rules and applying them. Once I started writing books, however, I knew what I was doing. No matter how well we think we can write, none of us comes into publishing fully developed. We need to master techniques and skills.

Another reason for articles first is that you work for shorter periods of time and get feedback faster. It's easier to handle a rejected article on which you spent three weeks than on a book that took you two years to write and it never sold.

If I first write shorter pieces, 
my first book will be superior to what I could have done earlier. 

____________________

[1] Talented Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (NY: New York, Penguin Group, 2008) p. 63

[2] Op.cit. p. 62.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 1 of 21)

Is it necessary to write articles first?

I won't say you can't get a book published without going the article route; I would say that writing articles makes it easier when you're ready to sell your book.

Here are the advantages:

* You prove that you can start and complete a writing project.

* You prove that you have publishing experience.

* Articles help you gain credibility in the marketplace.

* You can show that you have the skills for a magazine piece.

* You show you can write a specific length to fit the magazines.

* You can handle editing by a professional and rewrite if requested.

* You gain writing credentials.

* Your publishing credits show that you have begun to establish name recognition.

If your book is nonfiction, you could write the chapters and sell them as articles. (Sell only first or one-time rights.) You'll reshape them some for a book later, but the bulk of the research and writing will be done.

I don't have to write articles first, 
but it's an excellent way to break into publishing.