Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Barbara Weddle
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A good city logistics article includes such information as:
b) how to get around
d) where to stay
e) what to do
f) where to eat
g) costs of services
i) contact info/addresses, phone numbers, web sites
j) upcoming events
l) history, and
m) any other information that may be relevant, such as practical tips on safety, what to skip, where to find further information, doing what the locals do, and perhaps even a highlight of noteworthy places to visit in surrounding areas.
Every service article, travel or otherwise, begins with information gathering. Hence, the first thing you must do before starting a city logistics article is make a trip to the visitor's center in the city you wish to profile and pick up every brochure, travel magazine, guide and urban map you can lay your hands on. Unless distance and/or expense prevents otherwise, it is also wise to visit your profile city in person and nose around the eateries, shops, and other local haunts. Pick up any free local newspapers and magazines you come across (every city has these freebies). These are invaluable sources for information on what is currently going on in a particular city. A local freebie newspaper in a coffee shop, for example, may contain a profile of the owner of a new culinary walking tour not mentioned in any of the guides at the visitors bureau.
If you cannot visit your profile city, call the visitor's center; they will be glad to mail you everything you need. In addition, check out the visitor's center's website for additional information. Be sure to refer to their website later when updating the information in your piece one final time (especially when referring to upcoming events); this will help guarantee that your information is current as the date of submission.
A good way to get a feel for the flavor of a city or uncover little-known, interesting facts is to chat up the locals. A chance comment made by a clerk in a bookstore or bystander on the street may lead to the odd discovery or interesting bit of information that sets your article apart. You may, for example, already know that a new mega-mall was recently constructed just off a major interstate. You may even plan to highlight it in your article. Strike up a conversation with a shopper at said mall, however, and you may uncover other useful information: that the mall was built on land that was once one of the region's most magnificent and renowned horse farms, for example. Do not take information obtained via locals at face value, however. Research such information to verify its authenticity.
When you have completed your research, set up a file for the brochures, magazines, maps, etc., that you have collected, as well as interviews, Internet research, and so forth. Also set up a file for materials relating to the article assignment itself, such as guidelines, outlines, drafts, communications between you and the editor -- payment terms, deadlines, word count, etc.
Each editor has a specific style, tone, format requirements, photo requirements, etc. Be aware of what those are and keep them in mind as you go along. If this is your second or third time writing for a particular editor, you undoubtedly have a contributor's copy to refer to (plus the experience of the hits and misses of your previous assignments). Familiarizing yourself again with the magazine's guidelines is also beneficial, as they may have been revised since you last read them. An e-mail to the editor asking about any specific do's and don'ts that weren't mentioned in the guidelines, or things that he/she would prefer that you do differently from a previous article, is also wise.
When you begin writing, you must think of structure. A structure that works well for this type of article is compartmentalization. By compartmentalizing or breaking your material down into sections -- what to see and do, where to stay, etc. -- handling a complex and lengthy article such as this is made much easier. Also, a compartmentalized structure automatically gives you an outline: The pertinent topics you need to cover -- what to see and do, where to stay, etc. -- are already laid out. You now simply need to put them on paper and include other sections (as needed or desired), such as an introduction, a "why go" paragraph, a paragraph or two on what is new to the city, what to check out in surrounding areas, a line or two on doing what the locals do, and some cautionary notes such as not why to avoid a particular section of the city because of its high crime rate.
When your sections are in order, you can begin expanding them using the information in your file folder. You do not have to limit yourself to only those section headings, however. Add others as you see the need. Ask yourself what you would like to know about the city if this was your first visit. Your first answer would probably include detailed and accurate directions for getting about and where and how to seek additional information if needed. But, if you are a golfer, you may want to know where the golf courses, if any, are located. If you are an avid basketball fan, you may want to know something about the city's basketball team, assuming they have one. Where can you purchase tickets? Where are the games held?
Unless otherwise vetoed by the editor, consider adding some historical or unique-to-the-region touches. For example, mentioning that radio commentator Paul Harvey once dubbed Lexington, Kentucky's airport America's "most beautiful air approach" lets a prospective visitor to that city know that he or she is in for some scenic beauty.
During the writing process, try to get everything as accurate as possible in the first writing. This does not mean you omit the double or triple fact checks when the article is completed, but you need to concentrate as hard on the first draft as you do on the second, third or even fourth. This greatly reduces the margin for errors in the completed piece, while reducing writing time.
You can add a little local flavor to your city profile article with your choice of nouns, adjectives, phrases, etc. An article on Paris, for example, might find you wandering through charming arrondissements. An article on Lexington, Kentucky, might find you touring the genteel and aristocratic splendor of horse farms that house Derby-winning Thoroughbreds, or tasting culinary delights such as The Hot Brown, a turkey-cream sauce-bacon dish indigenous to Kentucky.
Writing city logistics articles is an exacting process. This means doing that meticulous second, third, or even fourth draft and rechecking all your research sources. If you say the locals gather outdoors downtown from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. every Friday night to imbibe and enjoy live music, your times and locations had better be on the mark. If you recommend a favorite dining experience located 25 miles outside the city at the crossroads of 169 and 1267, the restaurant had better be exactly where you say it is. Do not write too much, but write enough; knowing how to do this will come with practice and/or knowing the wants and needs of the particular editor you are writing for.
Doing an in-depth city logistics article is an arduous process. However, you can make the most of all your hard work by making the original article work overtime for you: the spin-off-article possibilities from a city logistics article are endless. And most or all of the difficult work -- research, pounding the pavement, etc. -- is already completed.
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.
Barbara Weddle is a freelance writer living in Wisconsin. She writes travel articles about her road trips throughout the South and articles about the writing life.