Writing a magazine article isn’t rocket science. But, let’s face it, some folks got it and some don’t, right? Not because it’s hard or a special gift or anything. But because they just need an organized approach. If you’re struggling to get article assignments, or more importantly repeat assignments, from your favorite publications, follow these four steps to an organized article writing process.
My foolproof organized article writing process
Hone your idea
Before you write anything, you must hone your idea. Honing your idea involves studying the publication you wish to pitch. It’s where you choose the perfect angle for those readers, narrowing it down to fit into the required word count. It’s where you cut that elephant down to a couple of steaks.
When I was the editor of a regional lifestyle publication, a senior at the local university reach out to me with some story ideas. He said he knew someone in the dairy industry, asked me if I would want a story about dairy farming in the Valley.
“What about dairy farming,” I asked. After all, dairy farming is a big topic. Did he want to write about the best breed of milk cows? How about the newest in milking machine technology? Or, maybe he wanted to write about the importance of milking cows at the same time every day. From his pitch, I had no idea what he was thinking. In fact, I don’t think he had any idea, either. He needed to narrow it down for me, and the readers of my publication.
Secure your experts
The next step in the article writing process is to reach out to expert sources. When you have to juggle your own schedule things get hectic. But when meeting your deadline hinges on the schedule of someone else, you better give yourself plenty of time.
You need two types of sources for an article: the expert and the man on the street. I find my experts in a few different places. Universities are the best. Since I write on a lot of agricultural topics, I look to the Extension Services of state universities. If the one in my state, Virginia Tech, doesn’t employ the right person to speak to my idea, I ask someone there who they would recommend. Medical schools are where I go for medical or health experts. And if I’m unsure, I can always ask on LinkedIn.
For the man on the street experts (you know, the person that actually has been-there, done that) I use social media. I belong to a ton of groups, both on Facebook and LinkedIn, in my various niches that always turn up the perfect person to interview.
Do your research
While waiting for responses from the experts I reached out to, I do some research on the topic and formulate my list of questions. At this point, I create a folder for the story. In that folder, I create a doc titled “Notes.” There I drop links to articles I find online, record the contact information for the folks I reached out to, or just write out random thoughts I have on the subject.
I start a second doc for interview questions. Then, when the interview time arrives, I print this list to take notes on while I’m talking to the person on the phone.
Write the thing
Once you finish your interviews and all the preliminary work, start writing–immediately. Don’t let days or weeks go by before you start “putting pen to paper.” I learned this the hard way. I got on a story right away, did my research and conducted the interviews, then because the story wasn’t due for a few months, promptly let it slide. NEVER do that. Trust me.
Since you will, however, have time before you have to turn in the assignments, because, you know, you got started as soon as you received your assignment, let those first drafts sit for a while before you go back to edit. You’ll be surprised at the things that will jump off the page at you.
That’s it! An easy peasy, organized article writing process will make the difference between feast and famine in your writing business.