May 21, 2018
I’ve written two columns in my writing career: “Sharin’ with Sharron” (in Oklahoma for one year) and “Reliving Anoka County History” (in Minnesota for fifteen years). If you’ve considered writing a column, these tips may help.
- Write about what interests you. If you’re interested in your subject matter, your writing will show it and your reader will see and share that interest.
- Develop your own voice. Your readers want to know your ideas and thoughts, not just a repetition of another writer’s style.
- Look for a variety of things to write about. When you find a variety of things to write about, you open all sorts of possibilities for column ideas.
- Read what you write out loud. I belonged to two different writers groups for many years. One met weekly and the other monthly. The writer read his/her work out loud to the group in the weekly one. A different group member (not the writer) read the writer’s work out loud in the monthly one. In both groups, hearing the words instead of just reading them with eye helped point out confusing sentences, fillers, and excess verbiage. If you don’t have a writers group, read your work out loud to yourself or to a friend who will be honest with you about what they hear.
- Scrutinize your verbs. Avoid using the same verbs repeatedly. Check each verb in your column and challenge yourself to find a more active and more accurate verb. Some examples are ponder versus consider, stroll versus walk, stare versus watch. You get the idea. Use verbs that create images and say what you mean, but keep them simple so the reader doesn’t have to wonder what you’re saying.
- Spend time on your column ending. Writers know to hook their readers in the opening/beginning sentences/paragraph. It’s just as important to spend time writing a satisfying ending.
- Make sure you have a point to every column you write. The point may be minor or subtle, but it should exist to give meaning to your column. “Sharin’ with Sharron” offered more opportunity for general topics than “Reliving Anoka County History.” But the purpose of each column was different. Know the purpose for your column.
If you’ve thought about writing a column, consider these tips. Happy writing!
May 1, 2018
Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or both, settling for the first draft never produces your best writing. Consider trying some of these ideas to help you when your nonfiction article needs something, but you aren’t sure what.
- Determine what you’re really writing about. I told my writing students they should get at least three different articles from whatever it is they were researching. For example, I interviewed a woman who owned an antiquarian bookstore. The three articles I sold from that interview were: (1) Her story as a business person, (2) what types of people bought antiquarian books, and (3) what to look for (condition, edition, etc.) when buying antiquarian books to start a collection.
- Detach yourself from your writing and consider your reader. Get rid of long sentences, extra words, anything that’s unclear at first reading. Don’t make your reader work to try to figure out what you’re trying to say.
- Hit the ground running. Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention. You do that by writing in your own voice, creating vivid images, or bringing out an emotion within your reader.
- Limit your focus. Each article should have a narrow focus or angle. Test your focus by summing up your article in one sentence or by writing a headline that grabs the reader’s (and editor’s) attention.
- Organize using an outline. One of the most useful outline tools I learned in graduate school is mind mapping. It allows you to insert ideas into your outline without the structure of Roman numerals, numbers, and letters. Google “mind mapping” and consider using it as a tool for you.
- Show, don’t tell. Yes, I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you write. Readers visualize images, not written words. Go through your article and highlight the generalities (which are harder to see) in one color and the specifics (which pop up fairly quickly) in another to see how well your writing creates visuals.
- Remember to communicate with your reader. Writers love words, which is one reason we use so many of them. Readers, on the other hand, want information and how they can use it. Think communication when you write.
- Describe the personality of your piece. Is it enthusiastic? Authoritative? Challenging? Inspiring? Entertaining? Humorous? OR Is it bland? Argumentative? Superficial? Infuriating? Horrifying? You get to decide which you want it to be.
You don’t have to use all of these ideas on everything you write, but consider which will help you improve your nonfiction writing, then try them. Happy writing!