How to Write Magazine Articles and Essays

In case you’ve only recently discovered Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) or you’re still struggling with what to write for the challenge – or you simply haven’t found time until now to get started, here’s another idea that you can still complete before month’s end: write a newspaper or magazine article. Put your pen to paper or your fingers to keyboard and whip out an essay or a reported piece of writing.

I’m a journalist by trade, so I thought today I’d offer you my expertise. (Sorry, no guest blogger; just me, Nina Amir.) I received my degree in magazine journalism specifically, although Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Journalism required all magazine journalism majors to also know how to write for newspapers, do layout and edit copy. (The latter put me on the path of becoming a nonfiction article, book and proposal editor.) I’ve been writing articles since I was in high school, where I began my career by reviving the defunct school newspaper and went on to become the school news reporter for the local newspaper. Since then, I’ve written for more than 45 local, national and international magazines, newspapers, ezines and newsletters on a full-time or freelance basis. I’ve written hundreds of articles on more subjects than I can remember.

I love what I do. I get to write about so many interesting things and people and so many things that interest me. For example, recently I was asked to write an article on the new Crique de Soleil show, Believe, opening in Los Vegas. I had a blast learning all about its creator Criss Angel and writing about the people who helped him bring his dream into reality. (Look for it in the November/December issue of Movmntmagazine.) Then, I got to write an essay for on something very personal – my struggle with my husband’s loss of faith. (You can read it in this week’s issue.) Prior to that, I wrote a reported article for the same ezine on how to prepare for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Read it here.) And before that, I wrote a reported article on the state of the organic market for a trade journal called Grocery Headquarters and a story on female tap dancers in a show produced by Emmy-award winning choreographer Jason Samuels Smith for Dance Spirit magazine. (My son’s a dancer, so I loved writing this article and talking to these phenomenal dancers. Plus, it provided great platform building for the book I’m writing on mentoring boys who want to become professional dancers. If you have a son who dances, check out this blog.)

If you’ve never written an article, don’t be put off. It’s not that difficult. Just tell them what you’re gonna tell ’em. Tell ’em. Then tell ’em what you told ’em. At least that’s what my old Professor John Keats, rest his soul, used to tell us students. (It sounds just like what most high school students are told when writing an essay.) So, let’s break down the three parts of an article.

The Three Parts of an Article

Just tell them what you’re gonna tell ’em. An article consists, first, of a lead, or a first paragraph that entices the reader into your article. This could also be comprised of several paragraphs if you choose to use an anecdote or a few bulleted items or to talk about a trend occurring. After that, however, you need a sentence or a few sentences that tell your reader what the article is about – a statement of purpose, if you will. Tell them what the article is about so they have an idea of where they are going. Hopefully, you’ve enticed them into wanting to go there.
Tell ’em. This section represents the meat of your article. Here you place all your supporting material, such as statistics, quotes you obtained from interviews, additional anecdotes, your analysis, etc. Remember, however, that if you are writing a reported article, in most cases you must write in an unslanted manner; this means without an opinion. If you are writing an essay, you may voice your opinon as loudly as you like. Also, if you are writing an essay, you may not be using quotes but relying instead on your own “voice.”
Tell ’em what you told ’em. Now write your conclusion. Sum up what you wrote about without simply repeating what you already said. That’s right: Say it again but in a totally new way so your readers have no idea that they are reading the same information again. Give it a new angle. Put a new take on it. Offer additional information to support what you’ve already offered. For an essay, if possible, provide a bit broader view or some quote or anecdote or bit of information that takes the reader into the future. You can use this tactic with a reported article as well, but it works especially well with essays.
If you are looking for a great topic to write about, ask yourself what interests you. Prof. Keats, like most good teachers, always said, “Write about what you know.” I tend to look at my life and identify issues with which I’m currently struggling. I query magazines and newspapers with those topics, and I usually find the editors pretty receptive. Most people are just like you. They struggle with the same issues.

I have a caveat to the “write what you know” advice: Know about what you write. A good writer/journalist can write about anything at all simply by becoming the expert on that topic. I’ve written about life insurance tax law, immortality, retail store imaging, Kabbalah, geodesic domes, lobbying, and the supermarket pet aisle. I served as the managing editor and primary writer for two international medical newsletters, Same-Day Surgery and Clinical Laser Surgery. I didn’t know about these topics when I began writing about them. I knew a lot about them when afterwards. The biggest compliment I ever received came from an employee at the Equitable Life Assurance Society. I was working as the associate editor of employee communications and had just written and published a huge article in the employee newspaper about life insurance tax law. She came up to me and said, “That’s the first article on the subject that I’ve ever understood.” I told her, “I had to understand it to be able to write about it.”

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