Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Getting it Right

We are almost into Spring and it can't come quick enough for me. I'm fed up with all the cold, the dark days and long nights - mind you the way it's been snowing here today I think Spring's further away than we think!!
I like to sit down around March time and take some time to take stock of where I am with my writing schedule and where I am going. I'm quite excited because I know I have a couple or three of my articles that I completed last year (sooooooo long ago!) coming out in March. And after the hiccup yesterday that sent me into a tail spin, I feel confident and I'm looking forward to reaping the rewards of my labours and taking my article writing forward again.

I haven't been keeping such a close record of what I have sent out this year as I haven't sent out much. I still have my records on computer. This is due to me swapping over from the multitude of letters I used to write to various magazines and newspapers to the more labour intensive articles - and I'm so glad I made that leap! It's taken a while but I am finally getting into magazines that pay! I still write for some of those that don't as it's good practise and you never know where it might lead. Plus I'm very grateful to those editors who took a chance on me and my earlier writing!

I often get asked by relatives and friends and other acquaintances how I do it. Some see it as an impossible task, whilst others think it's easy and they could do it if they only had the time! I think I do it like this:

1. I search the local newspapers/ magazines and I listen to people out in the street/town to get a feel for what people are talking about - what has sparked their interest and see if I can write about some of it! I take quite a bit of time doing this and it's important to listen and read carefully so you don't go down a road that leads to a dead end. It's all about keeping your writer's eye open and finding the writing opportunities that are out there - and they are there if you tune into them.

2. I listen and look when I'm going about my daily business in my other 'jobs': reading support, lunchtime assistant at the nursery, school governor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, and see if there is anything I can write about here. I don't write anything directly about the school or my family as I don't want people to think that I'm cashing in on my volunteer roles and I don't want to write about my family!! But there are general issues I pick up on and adapt.

3. I pitch my ideas in no more than three short paragraphs to the editor of which ever magazine I think would be interested. This process can take months! It's rare to get your first idea for an article accepted, so be prepared to send out loads of them -don't give up after the first few NOs! Keep going until the editor shouts NO MORE! (They won't!) It was my sheer persistance that got my first article in Writers' News and then another one which is either going in Writers' News again or Writing Magazine in the April issue. I know it was because the editor said so!! So don't be put off by stony silences or No - keep at it!

4. I read up about people/places I'm interested in writing about before I contact the person or organisation - or visit the place. This way I can prepare a list of potential questions I want answered and get some background on paper. Again, I take my time doing this, using a variety of media: newspaper cuttings, Internet, books etc. I always try and verify my information by going to at least two different sources  to ensure accuracy.

5. When I contact the person for the first time I either e-mail them or, if there's a telephone number I use that. Sometimes organisations or people have PAs or media contacts and it is essential that you contact these first - they are the gate keepers and if you treat them courteously and with respect you are far more likely to be welcomed and get the interview you want. If I don't hear back from them, I leave it a week and try a follow up email/phonecall. Sometimes people aren't interested so I move on! Life is too short!

6. Once I've got all the information I need, I lay it out in front of me on the floor and with a highlighter pen I highlight quotes I want to use. This usually leads to some kind of initial structure I can build on later. I then leave it for a few days and get on with something else: sourcing photos, if I haven't taken any myself, looking at any leads the person has given me for more information and the like.Or I switch off completely from that article and write a poem!

7. Once I feel I have everything I need, I read through all the information I've got and add this to the quotes to form a very rough first draft. It can be difficult to do this if you can't think of a good first line, but this doesn't matter! Any line is better than no line, so I just force myself to write whatever comes into my head about the person or place I'm writing about. Quite often this is the most important or interesting thing and it is the first good line!! Another great trick is to read the articles in your target magazine and get a feel of the layout and language used in there and structure your article in a similar way.

8. I continue writing until the first draft is complete. I then put it away for a couple of days and then get it out and look for spelling, grammer, inaccuracies, queries, flow and this forms my first edit. It then goes away again and the third draft is done. I read it through many, many, times and go back to my original research and interview transcripts to check everything is accurate. Any queries, no matter how small I usually go straight to the horses mouth to verify.

9. Check, check, CHECK again!! As we all know by my recent mistake - checking is not infalliable! But it reduces the chance of errors. I get my husband to proofread it and I will now get someone else to proofread it too(!!) Once I'm satisfied I send it off to the editor and get on with the next article while I'm waiting.

10. I don't give up and I work hard at producing copy of a high enough quality for publication. I am flexible and if an editor wants something changed I change it. It's their magazine. I spend hours at shaping, editing and getting my text the best I can get it. It doesn't happen over night and you have to be prepared to give it 100% . You also have to be willing to accept advice from other writers and editors with way more experience and knowledge than you and act on that advice (this is most important!) If I hadn't listened to the person who generously advised me, (they know who they are and how grateful I am to them but their head is already big enough and doesn't need inflating ;0) !) I wouldn't be where I am now with my article writing.

It takes a lot more than talent to get your work published: hard work, determination, flexibility, learning, adapting, listening and practise, practise, practise. If you want to be published you have to write and that's that! Then gradually you will progress, like I did, from letters to articles - the more you have accepted the more you will want to write and build up your portfolio. It's not a case of who or what you know, it's a case of how hard you are prepared to work, listen and learn. I certainly didn't know any editors or people who could help me get my foot in the door when I started out - but I still got published! I had a lot of rejections on the way and it wasn't easy but I enjoyed the journey and glad I'm still on it!

There's always something to write about and something to learn. You can and will do it

Happy article writing

Julie xx


  1. A great post Julie, very useful indeed. It will be great to see all your articles in print after waiting such a long time. But that's what it's all about isn't it? We have to have a lot of patience in this writing game.
    Well done

  2. You do have to have a lot of patience, Di!! I've just been thinking about which writing projects I shall be embarking on next - I find this phase of the writing game exciting but a bit nerve wracking too!

    Julie xx