Sunday, February 13, 2011


You are facing a pile of notes stacked on your desk, reference books, a tape full of interviews -- paper, pens, a keyboard -- and lots of blank paper. Now, how the heck you going to transform it all into a polished, finished, saleable article?

Work in pleasant, non-distracting surroundings. Find the best time of day to write; an often overlooked factor. Some folk are "early morning people", others work best at night. (Myself having mostly written while at day-jobs in offices, I tend to still keep conventional hours now I am a freelancer.)

The most prolific known writer was the British author Charles Hamilton (alias Frank Richards, creator of Billy Bunter) who had an astonishing average weekly output of 80,000 words. By contrast, James Joyce once spent two days writing a single sentence, after he had first painstakingly selected all the words for that single sentence.

Few writers have the ability to write perfect copy the first time. And even fewer freelancers have the time or organizational skill to gather together all their words before writing. You'll find a happy medium somewhere between these two extremes if you just write and write, then write some more.

Getting the first word down often seems the most difficult part of writing. (Priceless advice: to get things going, just start anywhere.) The following suggestions will help you with those first words and all the ones to follow:

The title is the least thing to worry about. For two reasons -- (a) while you are writing the article, a good title will suggest itself , and (b) more than likely, the editor will change your title anyway.

Put your completed research aside for as long as possible, for several hours or, even better, several days. Try to almost forget you ever gathered it, and let your subconscious go to work.

When you are ready to write your first rough draft, pretend you are writing a personal letter to a friend. Use simple, clear, declarative language. Start anywhere you want, without initial over-consideration for grammar, spelling, organization, or style. Though your notes are certainly important factually, the impressions and reactions you feel about the subject will flow naturally onto the paper.

Whenever you are temporarily at a loss for words or spelling, just insert a row of XXXX’s then keep on writing. These will signal the need to back and fill in the missing word or phrase later after you have completed most of the first draft.

If you really get stuck on something important and feel that you're approaching the threshold of irritability, stop writing and turn to something else. Preferably go do something physical – exercise, swim, walk, go for a walk.

Set aside your rough draft for a couple of hours or a couple of days (depending on your deadline). When you've got some distance between yourself and the article, go back and start revising.

Revise, revise, revise! Accept the fact that all writing is re-writing. Ernest Hemingway was said to have re-written the last page of his For Whom The Bell Tolls eighteen times. But, three to six revisions of a draft are about standard for many professional freelance article writers. Each revision may be devoted to different aspects of the article: organisation, leads, grammar, clarity, paragraph transitions, readability, quotes, and references.

But absolutely, positively, double-check accuracy of spelling!Start with the organization of your draft. Does the major concept of each paragraph make a smooth transition into the one following? Does the order of concepts form a logical flow in the manuscript? Are all the facts that support and illustrate the ideas in each paragraph described accurately?

Re-read your notes to fill in any missing factual gaps.

For major revisions that require frequent referral to your research notes, make sub-outlines. Key-in the appropriate concepts from your notes under each major heading.

Take a breather between revisions -- a couple of hours, if you're pressed for time, to a couple of weeks if there's no close deadline. You will be able to put some distance between yourself and the article; distance that will give a more objective perspective to your writing.

Only rank amateurs skip doing revisions. At the same time, though, do not fall into the trap of making continual re-writes as an excuse to put off submitting your article to its target market.

By this time, your article should be in as polished finished condition as possible. So your next and final step is to send it off to the editor without further delay. And while you are waiting for word of its acceptance, start researching and writing your next article!

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