For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them. Find what you want to know.
Teach Yourself to Write
By Shirley Jump
You, too, can teach yourself to write. No, this isn’t an infomercial with Ron Popeil. It’s not a classified ad looking to take your money in exchange for nothing. It’s true advice for aspiring writers who come from nontraditional backgrounds and who want to learn how to write.
Many people feel daunted by their lack of a degree and think they shouldn’t be a writer because they didn’t go to college. While a degree is a wonderful tool, it’s not a necessity to make it in this industry. The key is learning to analyze the articles in your targeted markets and then adapt your words to fit those parameters. Although I have a degree in English, I learned very little in four years that I didn’t already know (except maybe the difference between an iamb and a trochee). Like most writers, my education came from the school of life, taught by my friends in the industry.
The first step is analysis. You already know you have to study the magazines you want to write for. Go beyond the masthead and delve into the articles. Get out your highlighter collection and color-code the amount of narrative as opposed to quotes from experts, the number of tips, the length of the introduction and the conclusion.
Then look at how the article was constructed. Virtually all articles follow the same pattern: Problem, analysis of the way to solve it, and happy resolution. In the typical women’s magazine, you might see an article entitled “Seven Steps to Slimmer Thighs.” Problem: chubby thighs. Steps to Solution: Seven exercises. Resolution: Do this for six weeks, and you’ll fit those college jeans.
Notice how much of the material was backed up by experts. Did the writer let the quotes do the work or did he use expert advice to enhance the material?
Now look at the tone and voice of the piece. Is it written in a breezy, conversational manner, like you might talk to a neighbor? Or is it more serious, filled with the kind of vocabulary words you dreaded in high school? Is it written in first person (I) or third (she and he)? Is it short and concise or filled with information?
Before you write your own article, write up an outline of the ones you studied. This will provide an accurate framework for writing. No one’s going to grade you on it, so just write it any format you wish (and if you can remember any Roman numerals over three, you get extra credit).
When you write your own article, mimic the ones you studied. Notice I didn’t say copy – just emulate them. Never, ever plagiarize another’s work. Then ask a good friend or colleague to read the one you studied and compare it to yours. Get honest feedback on whether you have accomplished your goal.
These steps are the quick fix to teaching yourself to write. The best way to understand the concepts of writing is to take classes, especially the targeted ones available online or in community education programs.
Join writing groups. There are hundreds of them available, but look for one that offers local meetings and opportunities. The Society of Professional Journalists (www.spj.org), of which I’m a member, is just one group with workshops and conferences for members around the country. You can find conference listings at http://writing.shawguides.com. A two-day conference is usually cheaper than a three-credit college class and will cover a wider variety of materials.
Join a critique group, either online or in real life. Try to be paired with someone who is further along in her career than you are. If you and your partner are both floundering around in the dark, neither of you will be much help to the other. Most experienced writers are more than willing to assist new writers.
Finally, never stop learning. I have been writing for more than twenty years and yet I still take classes. I learn something new every time and look at my craft in a slightly different way when the class is over. Education is a lifelong process that constantly challenges you to strive harder and write better.
AGENTS & EDITORS
- 60 Calls for Submissions in June 2021 – Paying markets
- Agents: Knowing When To Hold One and When To Fold
- Getting Offers from Multiple Literary Agents
- Literary Agents List
- Preditors and Editors
- Publishing, Writing Terms, Acronyms
- Tips for a Successful Editor Appointment
- Want More? Here’s How to Get It
- What NOT to Do When Beginning Your Novel
- Windup for the (Story) Pitch
- Write the Perfect Book Proposal
CALLS FOR SUBMISSION
FORMATTING & GRAMMAR
- Achieving 250 Words / 25 Lines Per Page
- And Sammy, too? Oh, No!
- Changing Double Hyphens to EM Dashes in Word
- Edit Easier
- High Hopes–Avoiding Common Mistakes
- Misused Words
- Navigating In Your Novel
- Proofreaders Marks
- Rules for Writers
- Slang and Jargon Souces
- Tightening Your Manuscript and Trimming the Word Count
- Copyright Primer, Know Your Rights
- EBooks-Fears to Possibilities
- Finding Markets Fiction and Nonfiction
- Freelance Writing 101
- How To Be a (Shiver) Reporter
- Magazine Links
- Making Money As a Corporate Freelancer
- Market News–All Genres
- Newspaper Writing Resources
- Path to Self-Publishing Success
- Publishing, Writing Terms, Acronyms
- Science Writing Organizations
- Selling to Children’s Markets
- Submission Tracking
- Submitting to UK Markets
- Syndication 101
- To Specialize, or Not to Specialize?
- Why E-Books?
- Writing Groups List
- Youth Writing Markets
- A Dream Realized
- Finding Time to Write
- Five Ways to Promote Yourself
- Fun Inspirations 1
- Fun Inspirations 2
- How Not to Procrastinate
- How to Quit Writing and End up on the Bestseller Lists
- Making Time for Self-Care While Running a Business
- Moving Up the Rejection Ladder
- Pop Quiz: Who Are You?
- Rules for Writers
- The Art of Being Rejected–475 Words
- The Juggling Act
- The Literary Food Chain
- Write Better Naked
- Writer’s Conferences Do You Really Need To Attend?
- Writing By Moonlight
WRITER'S BLOCK & TOOLS
ABOUT WRITING CONTESTS
• ALL WRITING CONTESTS
- 2022 JAN Contests, Workshops, Webinars
- 2021 DEC Contests, Workshops, Webinars
- 2021 NOV-JAN Writing Contests, Webinars
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