7 Butt-Saving Strategies for Getting Your Article Written on Deadline
A guest post by Carol Tice
Does this happen to you? You’ve got an article assignment, and you’re all excited.
You get your research organized, and interviews if needed. You feel like you’re making good progress.
Then it comes time to write it up.
And you freeze.
That blank page is just mocking you.
And that deadline is looming in your face. Soon, you’ll have to face your editor and tell her your piece isn’t going to be ready on time.
What’s happened here?
You’ve got a complex.
You know your topic…and yet you can’t seem to organize all the bits and pieces of information into a coherent whole.
You can’t find the starting point.
You’re dead in the water.
How do I know about this? Well, I am the queen of this non-starter complex.
Especially if it’s my first article for a brand-new client. Massive, massive complex.
Much woe and teeth-gnashing ensues, and/or compulsive inhaling of entire bag of dark-chocolate Lindt truffles.
Fortunately, I know how to snap out of it and get the article done — even if the piece has a ton of different interviews and research I need to weave in.
Here are seven strategies for cracking the blank-page problem and getting your article written, and written well:
- Re-read the publication. You probably looked it over when you researched this market, but crack it open (or read it online) again now. Study their articles — how do they start? What’s the tone? How do they use quotes? Subheads? How do they end? Now, close your eyes and imagine the piece you’re writing in this publication. Often, you can envision the opening immediately by doing this.
- Start anywhere. Don’t get hung up on the first line or sentence. If you know the end, write that. Got a section of bullet-points in the middle that are easy? Knock them out. Now, you’ve beat the blank page and are well begun.
- Read and highlight notes. If you’re nervous about whether the material you need is all there, read and highlight all your notes. By the time you’re done, you’ll know whether you have all the information you need — or if you’re stumped because you need to find an expert to interview because you don’t know enough about your topic yet.
- Create an “idiot’s outline.” Making a real outline, where you graph what points will go where, has always seemed like a time-waster to me, especially for a 500-word or shorter article. Instead, create a source outline — simply list each source you have and the most important points they make, in any order. List any important stats you want to use, too. Now, you have a pithy list of the most important things to say in your article. Put them in order of priority, and you’re ready to write.
- Set the quotes. Sometimes, it helps to pull out the few great quotes you know you want to use and write them out. Then, start writing the lead-up and follow-on paragraphs that go around it…and by then, you’re well on your way.
- Write without notes, exact quotes or attribution. One of the biggest writing problems comes when we stop and start all the time to look up facts and name spellings and the precise wording of quotes we want to use, and other trivia. Instead, let all the fine details go and simply begin to tell the story. Let it flow out in a fast first draft. Leave a short blank if you need to look something up. Then, you can go back and check facts once you have a draft.
- Check your knitting. As you write, look at the transitions you create between paragraphs. Each one should follow smoothly and logically from the one before it. If you’re finding that hard to do, your material may need reorganizing. Writing strong transitions is often the difference between a disjointed article that loses readers and a great one that’s read through to the end — and gets the author another assignment.
Having trouble getting your article written? If you worry that you don’t have the journalism chops to tackle the big-money article assignments, check out my new class with Linda, 4-Week J-School. We take you through how to find great topics, conduct interviews, find credible research, write a top-flight article, and avoid legal problems with your writing, all in a month flat. Through tomorrow, we’ve got some cool early-registration bonuses, too, including a free copy of Linda’s ebook Get Unstuck.