|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Do you have a need to write non-fiction articles for your blog, newsletter, or other purpose? Then you'll find this article timely, apt, and practical. I am going to share some tips which have stood me in good stead... and should be most helpful for you.
My writing credentials.
I have been a published author now for nearly 60 years; my first non-fiction article appeared in the Downers Grove (Illinois) Reporter and was a look at the neighborhood through the eyes of a five year old. Since then, I have written 18 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of subjects. I also have taught expository writing at several colleges and universities, including Harvard. In the last year I have written over 200 non-fiction articles of about 1,500 words each. You could say, and you'd be right, that scribbling is in my veins.
1) Have a writing place, a room or even just a desk that's used only for your writing.
Have you got a place now that's dedicated to your writing and to nothing else? Probably not... and that's your first problem. All serious writers (and by that I mean writers who are dedicated, productive and focused) know the importance of a room all their own, a room where the rest of the world is cordially not invited. In this space -- sacrosanct to your craft -- there is NOTHING else going on but what helps you write. These days that means a computer with at least a 36" screen. The older you (and your eyes) are, the more you'll appreciate the screen size.
Make it clear to all the world that they are not to touch, ever, a single thing in this space. ALL writers have idiosyncratic organizational systems. Whatever is yours must be for you and you alone.
2) Have standard reference books easily at hand.
Good writers have a good working library containing appropriate reference books. For instance, I have standard dictionaries in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. I use them daily... and so must you. Good writers are expert are finding just the word they need... the dictionaries ensure they get it.
Note: Some, presumably younger, readers will argue that everything they need is available online. It may be a function of my age and habits, but I like the old paper dictionaries and other reference books. That may make me an anachronism... but a happy and productive one.
3) Set up a filing system.
You should have files for articles and books you intend to write. These files should contain ideas and research findings. Do not be casual or disorganized about these things; losing them could set you back days or weeks and is sure, at the very least, to leave you in a nasty temper.
You also need files for all the articles you have written. Such files will contain your notes and research data and a copy of the final article, as well as any fan letters you received (yes, you'll get them) and other pertinent correspondence.
4) Have a handy place for all your writing supplies.
Writers need lots of supplies, including reams of paper, fax supplies, etc. You'll need good pens, too, for editing. What you write online should always be printed out when it's time to review what you've written.
5) Select your writing time and strictly adhere to it.
Seasoned writers are methodical writers. They set the exact time they intend to write, starting and concluding, and then proceed accordingly. In his must- read autobiography prolific Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope made it clear when he wrote and what he aimed to produce (250 words the quarter hour). He set the objective and then made sure he achieved it by being in his writing place at the set time... and focusing exclusively on his craft and output at that time.
6) Never take phone calls or other interruptions during your writing time.
Non-writers do not understand writers and our often curious ways; no, they never have and never will. That's why they think of telephoning or even showing up during your essential writing time. Such people must be politely but firmly told that you never answer calls, etc. or attend to any other interrupting thing during that scheduled period. Life's little interruptions are severely detrimental to what we must do, and we must be strict about controlling their access.
5) Write daily.
There isn't a day that goes by, not Christmas, Thanksgiving or the 4th of July, that I don't write. Thus, by adhering to a strict schedule, I produce about 325,000 publishable words each year. What's important, however, is not the quantity of words produced but their consistent quality... and the fact that not a single day ends until the quota for that day is finished.
I live in an academic community where there are lots of experienced and even more aspiring writers. When one identifies himself to me, I always ask what he's working on now, when he expects to finish it and when he finished his last writing project. The answers provide irrefutable proof as to whether the person in question is a writer... or merely a dreamer. Writers write... more importantly writers write daily.
6) Learn to use the search engines.
As a prolific writer, I spent in earlier years a great deal of time in libraries garnering necessary information. Nowadays, with up-to-the-minute data available online at your finger tips, I hardly ever set foot in such an archaic place. The key here is knowing how to use search engines, the "card catalogs" of the Web. Here are some tips:
a) never limit your search to a single search engine. Different search engines can and do produce different results.
b) never restrict yourself to one search term. Brainstorm different search queries; they will produce different results.
c) Print the data and documents you discover as soon as you find them. What you find today may not be there when you return.
d) Do your search engine researching during time you are not writing. Searching is not only necessary; it is actually fun and relaxing.
7) Set up a blog where you can showcase your work.
If you have a blog, use it. If you don't, set one up at once as a useful place to showcase your work.
A blog gives you, unlike all previous writers, the opportunity to tell the world who you are and show them what you can produce. It should be well-written, simply but eye-catchingly presented, and always timely.
Writers are special people; we have a privilege that most of the world can only imagine: the need, the obligation, the absolutely necessary task of seeking truth, contemplating what we find, then writing about it in the clearest, most honest way we can. In the process we touch people's lives, inform them, change them, improve them. There is absolutely nothing more essential and more rewarding than that.
Now, with this article in hand, you are ready to perfect yourself as a writer and the process that produces just the words you want, just when you want them; for that is the last of today's advice.To set a deadline for all your writing tasks... and stay focused so you achieve it...
... Which is what I have just done... finishing today's article on time and the right length, too. In a few minutes it will be posted online, the next step to helping it wend its way to you. Thus we lucky scribblers change the world, one word, one article, one reader after another... people who make a difference every day and gladly so.