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How to Sit Down and Write an Article
by Dawn Copeman

Return to Starting Your Writing Career · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

There's no nice way to put this, but writing an article is hard work.

Many beginners have contacted me to say that they are full of ideas and inspiration to write an article -- but when they sit down to write, their mind goes blank. Others have told me that they want to write articles but can't get started. Some writers have told me they can write fiction for hours, but struggle for days to produce a single page of nonfiction.

So why do we find it so difficult to write an article?

Basically, as beginners it all boils down to one thing: we don't think we can do it.

We've read all the articles on how to query magazines and how to write articles, but we still lack confidence; we still don't believe that we can do it. Those articles were written by experienced writers, the kind of writers who, as they say in their newsletters or articles, can knock out an article or two in a morning. We, on the other hand, take all day to write one article and even then it isn't finished. We look at our attempts to write articles and think that we must be either:

  1. doing something wrong,
  2. not good enough to be a writer or
  3. temporarily without our muse -- once it's back we'll be able to write.

Well, actually, none of the above are true. What is true is that we are beginners and as beginners we should expect it to take us longer to write an article -- much, much longer.

If you've just read a book on car maintenance, you wouldn't expect to be able to tune up your engine as quickly as a qualified mechanic, would you? So why do you expect to be able to turn out an article as quickly as a qualified, experienced writer?

If you want to write an article (and I suggest you do, not only because you may earn money from doing so, but also because writing an article is an excellent way to learn about structure, flow and tight writing) then first of all remember you are a beginner and downsize your expectations.

It will take you at least twice as long as you expect to write your first article, and the one after that, and the one after that. You are, after all, still learning. Be kind to yourself instead of being hard on yourself and don't expect too much at first.

Write a few practice articles before you start querying magazines. Choose a topic and a slant or focus then set yourself a word limit of, say, 700 or 1000 words. Set a deadline and make sure you meet it. Now sit down and write until you have written a first draft. If you come up with fantastic ideas for other articles whilst writing, make a note of them in your notebook, and then carry on writing.

By the way, get into good practice whilst writing articles and make sure you put your name on your work. Set up a header on every page of your article for your name, the title of the article, the page number and your email address. I want this to be second nature to you by the time you're submitting articles for real. You'd be surprised how many editors still receive articles, either via e-mail or by post, that don't have any contact information. How do you expect to get a byline or get paid if your name isn't on your work? How can an editor contact you if you don't give them your contact information?

Even if you're a regular contributor to an editor, you must still ensure that your name is on your work. Editors are very busy people with hectic offices, so make it easy for them to attribute your article to the correct person -- you!

Okay, now you've set up your header, so let's get back to the writing. Beginning is the hardest part of writing, but after that, the second hardest part is continuing to write until you've finished the piece. Make sure you do both! Do not keep stopping to reread or edit the previous paragraph or you'll never get the article finished! Write a complete rough version, the first draft, then go back and edit it.

Yes, it can seem tedious. Yes, it can feel like you're writing essays or assignments for college, and yes, it will be hard work! But trust me: it will be worth it in the long run.

When you've finished your article, put it to one side for a few days and immediately start writing another one, preferably on a different topic or with a different slant. Then go back and edit your first article.

Reread it and edit it for style, tone and flow. Ensure that each word works and that you haven't got any unnecessary words in your article. Ensure that the end delivers what is promised in the beginning. Make sure there are no incongruous or irrelevant facts. Keep it tight, on topic and focused. Reread and edit it until you are convinced it is as good as it can be. Then do the same with your next practice article and the next.

Only when you've written a few practice articles on your chosen topics and are starting to feel happier about the process should you then start querying magazines. But remember, if editors are interested, you will need to turn the article around quickly, so make sure you can do this. The only way you can make sure you can do this is to practise. So go on, get writing.

Find Out More...

Facing the First Draft - Moira Allen

How to Craft a Great Article, Part I: Structure, Focus, Unity and Flow - Dawn Copeman

How to Craft a Great Article, Part II: Hooks, Leads, and Endings - Dawn Copeman

Copyright © 2006 Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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