When you’re a new writer and you get your first assignment, you first want to do the happy dance — and then you want to wet yourself in fear that you now need to actually produce a publishable article.
A lot of mentoring clients ask me to describe my methods for writing an article. So — here you go!
1. Write in your head.
I think about my assignments during down times, like when I’m taking a shower or driving in the car. It’s a habit — it’s become automatic for me. Then, when I sit down to write the article, a lot of it is already written in my head. I may have an idea for a lede or a kicker (that’s the end of your article), or I may have thought about what information from my research and interviews I want to include and what I want to leave out.
2. Draft an outline.
Don’t freak — I don’t mean that you have to write a detailed outline with all the letters and numbers like you did for high school essays.
For me, outlining is as simple as jotting down the subheds I think I’d like in the article, in the order in which they’ll appear. Even writing a quickie outline will keep you from feeling overwhelmed by all the research you’ve done. You now have an idea of what you need and what you don’t.
3. Divide it up.
If you’ve written a quick outline, divide up your word count among the sections, making sure you save words for your lede and kicker. For example, if I’m writing a 2,000-word article with 4 sections, I know I have about 450 words per section, which gives me 200 words for the beginning and conclusion. This keeps me from overwriting, and it’s a lot easier to write to length when you’re looking at chunks of 500 words (or whatever) instead of an entire article.
4. Read your notes.
I like to quickly read over all my research and interview transcriptions before starting just to refresh my memory on the main points. Then, I start writing from my head, without looking at the notes. If there’s anything I forget, I mark that spot in the article with a TK (journalism parlance for “to come”) and fill it in later.
5. Use the notes.
I often use the technique I outlined in My Trick for Writing Difficult Articles. In short, I go through each of the interview transcriptions, pull out the best quotes, and plop them into the right sections in the article. Then, I use my mad skills to blend them into the rest of the article, or to paraphrase the quotes if I find the article is becoming too quote-heavy.
6. Make raisin bread.
Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing and the Freelance Writers Den has shared the “raisin bread” technique she learned from a journalist when she was starting out: Think of quotes as the raisins in raisin bread. No raisins, and your bread is dull and bland. Too many, and the bread falls apart. You want to sprinkle in just enough to make the bread tasty and interesting.
7. Edit as you go.
Some people like to blast out a draft and then edit the heck out of it, which is perfectly fine. As for me, I prefer to edit as I go. So I’ll write a paragraph and edit it. I may have a brainstorm and go back to an earlier section and add or delete words there. Then, when I finish the article, I only need to do a quick proofreading before sending it out.
8. Put on the finishing touches.
You’ll definitely need to include a source list, and your editor may also ask you for an annotated copy of the article for the fact checker. More info on those and other end-of-the-article details here.
That’s it! Do you have any super special tips for writing a great article quickly and efficiently? Please post them in the Comments! [lf]