On Celtic Fairy Stuff
Preparing Your Canvas for a Watercolor Painting
Fabulous Fabrics Without Breaking the Bank
The Sun, Part II
How to Write an Articleby Ellen Million
Writing articles is a great way to share information and create a little bit of extra traffic for your site. People love to learn, and you don't have to be an expert or a professional writer to share some skill or specialty that you happen to have.
Start with an idea
The best way to start a great article is to have a great idea that you are interested in. In my case, this was an easy article to start, because I knew exactly what I wanted (to get people to write articles for me!) and I�ve written enough of them to have a pretty good system for knocking them out.
Start by brainstorming some ideas that are close and personal. What do you know about? What are you good at? What have you recently learned that made a big impact on your art or writing? What have you wondered about recently? What do you feel is the next hurdle you have to conquer in your field? What do you feel is most lacking in your education? Likewise, what do you feel is the strongest aspect of your education?
The topic you choose should be something that has a strong personal connection, either something that you already know a great deal about, or something you don't mind researching because you personally want to know about it. These are things you will be most interested in and will be most motivated to finish.
Narrow it down
Be specific. You are not writing a novel, you are writing something succinct and self-standing. You cannot write about "drawing" - that's too broad a subject. You must concentrate on something. Maybe you can talk only about drawing a particular set of textures*, or drawing ergonomically*, creatively*, or with a particular kind of pencil*.
Connect it to your market. In the case of writing an article for EMG-Zine, how is it going to appeal to fantasy artists and writers? Can you give it a "tilt" that will connect it? For example, you decide to research insurance*. To make the article specific to EMG-Zine, connect it to artists or writers, concentrating on the kinds of insurance that freelance people need and bypassing things like corporate umbrella programs.
It is important to remember that some things are timely, and some things are more lasting. You don't want to talk about the specific costs of things, or make concrete recommendations about technology that will be out of date in a year for a publication that won't even be released for 8 months. They would, however, be appropriate topics for a monthly or weekly publication. Again, it's important to understand your market.
A tutorial will generally march along a timeline . . . first you do this, then you do that. An article requires more applied organization. It is highly recommended that you have an organization in mind before you begin writing, even if you don't outline it in a traditional sense. If you start with the organization instead of plowing headfirst into the writing, you won't have to move paragraphs around later, making for more seamless writing.
Here's my method of organizing: You have a theme, now write down all the major points you need to make about that subject. Let's say we're writing about a comparison of erasers*. What do we need to impart with our article? Well, we need to talk about how different erasers may leave smudges, and how they are best for different papers, and which ones will last the longest, and which ones can be used for fine details, and the kinds of erasers available, and how much they cost.
Take everything you brainstorm and group them into three to five sections. These should be the major points to your subject, with the specific items from your brainstorming acting as support for your statement. In our eraser example, we could organize it by erasers, talking about the pros and cons of each in turn, or we could discuss each comparison point of erasers and discuss only the erasers that are standouts in each particular area. The first kind of organization is going to be easier to do - each section will contain very similar information, and it is logical to do it in the same order each time. The second may be more interesting and less predictable. They are both perfectly valid methods of organization, and will impart the same information. It will depend on your personal preference and writing style you choose.
Once you have your organization in place, simply fill in the gaps. Make an introduction to explain what you will be talking about, and why. Write up the words to expand on each of the ideas, explain and give examples. This is where you may need to do more research, if you find that you have a gap in your knowledge. Bridge each section with a lead-in to the next to finish it off, and then write up a conclusion.
Finishing the sucker
This is the hardest part of writing, in many cases. You see the flaws too clearly, you hopelessly feel like you can't possibly finish it to your own standards. The organization feels too stiff, the writing too inelegant; your inner critic will keep you from doing anything if you let it. It is important to just plow forward. You can clean it up later, and your editor can help you with this stage!
The conclusion is often a stumbling block. You want to leave the reader feeling like "that was finished," not, "Where's the rest?" If you're discussing smudging techniques* in your article, you may want to end with a rousing encouragement to get your reader to go and experiment themselves. You don't have to repeat everything that you've already said, just make sure to connect the topic to your reader in some way that they carry your article forward with them.
The last hurdle: Edits
Before you send your article off to your hardworking and much-loved editor, do a pre-edit yourself. Run spell check, and grammar check, and make sure that you have completed your thoughts in each section. Watch out for common problems, like tense or pacing. Re-read any guidelines your editor may have published and make absolutely sure you have met them.
Make sure that you have a fairly balanced amount of text in each section. If you have one section that is going to be significantly longer or more detailed than another, ask yourself if you can't break it into two sections.
Now, you have to send your precious child off to your editor. Don't expect them to be as enamored with every word as you are! They will be able to give your prose a critical look, from a more unbiased standpoint that you could ever manage. Don't take their edits as criticism against you - they are there to make your work the best it can be, and it's their job to be as picky as possible. Accept their edits and send them chocolate.
And . . .?
So you have an article. What now? Publish it! If it's going in a publication like EMG-Zine, I want exclusive rights to show it off for the first month, but then you can do whatever you like with it. (Check with your individual editor, of course!)
It is a great idea to post your article at your website. Folks come back to Web pages that have content and helpful suggestions, as well as pretty art, and having articles about the work that you do available will increase the traffic to your site, as well as increase visitor's appreciation for what it is you do and their feeling of connection to you.
Additionally, there are other places that collect archives of helpful articles, and making your work available to those sites can get you more free traffic and exposure. Some places to check out along those lines are Wet Canvas, Epilogue's Education section, and Elfwood's FARP. Check each site's guidelines to make sure they accept previously published material and don't allow unlimited re-use of your material.
Even better than any extra traffic is the warm, squishy feeling that you've been able to help spread education and enlightenment. With all of these wonderful reasons to write articles, why aren't you?
*These are all article topics that I would love to see at EMG-Zine! Hint, hint!
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