How do you write a magazine article? These tips will give you the confidence you need to write for magazines, submit query letters to editors, and get your writing published. Even if your goal isn’t to become a successful freelance writer, you will benefit from these simple ways to improve your magazine writing skills.
These aren’t “secret tips” on how to get your article published in a magazine – because there are no secrets for writing articles and getting published. Writing for magazines is much simpler than you think. Simple, but not easy. These tips worked for me when I started freelance writing over a decade ago, and they still work for me today. In fact, I have an article due to alive magazine in three business days. It’s about brain health and my recent trip to Nepal – which is a perfect start to my new life as a travel blogger. In fact, I just wrote an article about how to write travel articles for magazines.
Let’s start easy, with the foundational tip on how to write a magazine article. “Show, don’t tell.” Why start there? Because nobody does it! Most writers want to express their thoughts and show how much they know (or think they know). If you’re one of those rare writers who simply reports the facts in an interesting, engaging and clear manner then you’re already halfway to getting your magazine article published.
“Never tell your readers what they should think about something. You may write about amazing things, but never tell them that something is going to be amazing,” says William Zinsser in On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. “Just lay out the facts and let the reader say, ‘Wow! Imagine that!'”
Zinsser’s advice means you shouldn’t add commentary to your articles – especially if you’re writing for a magazine. You can tell readers what you think in blog posts, newsletters, and your Facebook updates. But when you’re writing a magazine article, think “just the facts, ma’am.” Show, don’t tell. Describe, don’t opine.
How to Write a Good Magazine Article
Part of learning how to write a magazine article is decided what type of article you’re writing and who you are writing for. Read 11 Most Popular Types of Magazine Articles – Print & Online. I’ll wait here.
1. Learn the difference between “subject” and “story”
The fact that Anne Lamott or Stephen King both wrote books about writing is a subject. How Anne Lamott and Stephen King fought to get their books published is a story. What’s the difference between subject and story? Conflict. Suspense. Drama. Problems. Growth. Here’s another – better – example: “The cat is lying on her mat” is a fact. The story comes alive when “The dog and the cat both want to lie on the mat.” Knowing the difference between a subject and a story one of the most important tips on how to write a magazine article. Even nonfiction articles contain the threads of a story.
If you’re learning how to write magazine articles because you want to become a freelance writer, train yourself how to find stories. One of the more interesting ways to do this is to find temporary work stints in an office, museum, or coffee shop. You’ll find that being around regular people can will help you see and even write stories that can easily become publishable magazine articles. And, since freelance writing isn’t lucrative for beginners, the extra income will help you cope with the financial insecurities. Successful freelancers are most creative when they get away from their laptops, generate new article ideas, find inspiration, and even plan career moves and pivots. Getting paid to be out of the house is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing!
2. Don’t opine (give your opinion). Just write the article
This is a follow-up to the first tip on how to write a magazine article: don’t tell us what you think because – unless you are Anne Lamott or Stephen King and we’re a bunch of geeky writers – we don’t care. “Unless you are a recognized expert, your opinion is not relevant,” writes author Don McKinney in Magazine Writing That Sells. “To support your points, quote real experts.”
My Reader’s Digest editor also repeatedly gave me this writing advice. This is why I not only mentioned it before my tips on how to get a magazine article published, but am expanding on it now. I myself am still learning how to just tell or write a story instead of trying to explain every nuance to the reader.
How do you know if you’re over-explaining or overwriting? After all, you’re just beginning to learn how to write a magazine article! Here’s a tip: Reread and edit your past work. Don’t let your past articles, blog posts, book chapters, newsletter entries or editorial just sit there. Read them carefully and critically. How can you improve on your writing? What can you do to make it into a publishable magazine article? Challenge yourself. You’ll become a better writer.
3. Do extra research – especially when you’re still learning how to write a magazine article
It’s better to do too much research and have more information than you can include when you write your magazine article. Here are two reasons why:
- Your research will inform your writing even when you don’t include it all in the article (and you should never put all your research in one magazine article)
- You can use your research in a different magazine article. Your excess research won’t be wasted unless you throw it away. Don’t cram everything you learned in your article. Pick out the best information that makes your article better; save the additional information for a different magazine article, blog post, or medial outlet.
The more you practice writing articles for magazines, the better you’ll get at discerning how much information is “too much.”
4. Relax. There is no one “right” way to write a magazine article
While there aren’t any perfect, right or best ways to write good magazine articles, it’s important to remember the first sentence. The beginning of your magazine article can be the most frustrating and time-consuming part of writing. My first paragraphs and headline (article title) take more time that writing the whole article or blog post. This is because the lead or lede – the first sentence of your article or the introduction – is the most important. That, and the ending. Why? Because the lead is what will either hook your reader or leave her cold. If she’s cold, she doesn’t care about reading your work. Then all the time you spent learning how to write a magazine article was wasted! Unless, of course, you’re writing for your teacher or mom.
The best lead or introduction grabs the reader’s attention and forces her to read your whole entire article, start to finish. Here’s the problem with this “simple” writing tip: How do you know what will grab your reader’s attention? What captures my attention may not capture yours.
5. Don’t let rejection stop you from writing your best article
Here’s what I had to learn when I first started freelance writing for magazines: Writers get rejected dozens of times – especially when they’re first learning how to write articles for magazines. But even experienced freelancers and professional journalists get rejected. Not every query letter sells, not every pitch is sold, and not every magazine article is published.
The best writers do not associate rejection with themselves. That is, successful freelance writers know getting rejected is part of the game. And writing is a game! It’s fun to be a writer, so have fun with it. It’s even more fun to be a blogger, so have even more fun with writing blog posts. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn how to write good magazine articles, but loosen your collar. Ungrip your hands. Maybe even take them off the steering wheel. Do the best you can to write good articles for magazines and other media outlets, then let your writing go.
Do you want to get an article published in one of the most popular magazines in the world? Read How to Get Your Articles Published in Reader’s Digest.
6. Don’t even think about writer’s block
Jack London said something like, “Writer’s block? Writing inspiration? I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at 9 am.” Now that is a professional freelance writer who knows how to write magazine articles, books, blog posts and feature profiles.
Do you struggle with writer’s block? Here’s a writing tip: Stop writing while the writing is going well. Leave the paragraphs and sentences you know will come easily for tomorrow, or your next writing stint. For example, don’t stop writing when you come to a natural conclusion. Instead, stop writing when you know what’s coming next and you’re eager to continue. Some famous author even advised writers to stop writing in the middle of a
7. Remember who you’re writing for
“Even before writing the query, remember who you’re talking to,” writes McKinney in Magazine Writing That Sells. “At every stage of the process, from query to finished manuscript, remember three little words: Audience. Audience. Audience.” That’s a key tip on how to write a magazine article. Who are your readers? What are their pain points, fascinations, obsessions, yearnings? Knowing who you’re writing for will help you write better.
A great way to learn how to write for different readers is to read print newspapers and magazines. Vancouver-based freelance writer Daniel Wood encouraged writers to clip newspaper articles when they resonate with you. When a piece of writing stands out to you in some way, keep it close. Study it. Analyzing print writing will teach you how to write good magazine and newspaper articles. I enjoy reading the Vancouver Sun newspaper, but I have turned down article assignments from the editors. They don’t pay well. Nevertheless, reading the local paper or any new-to-you magazine or print publication is a great way to keep your writing fresh and remind yourself who your primary readers are.
8. Remember that good magazine articles start with the first sentence (or even the first word!)
Circling back on my fourth tip on how to write a magazine article: If you’re struggling with the introduction or lead, think about how you’d tell your story to a friend. Describe it in your own words, out loud, in your own voice. What are the most impressive things about your story? The one fact or event that stands out may be a good lead.
“If it’s the first thing you’d tell a friend, maybe it should be the first thing you’d tell a reader,” writes McKinney in Magazine Writing That Sells. Start with the most important, compelling, interesting information first. If you struggle with the beginning of your articles, read How to Write the Best Introduction for Your Readers.
9. Use different sentence lengths for different tones and moods
This isn’t just a tip on how to write a magazine article, it’s a general tip for good writing. Your writing should match the tone or mood of your piece. If you’re describing quick or abrupt action, for example, use short, punchy sentences. If you’re describing how the long green grass is swaying in the field, use longer sentences that flow. Also, don’t forget to vary the length of your sentences and type of punctuation you use! I gets boring to read the same style of writing, even if it’s just a 500 word magazine article.
How do you learn how to write better articles? Start a blog! When I first started freelancing I didn’t know if I should create a website. I eventually did, and called it The Adventurous Writer. Do you have a blog or website? Blogging is a fantastic way to learn how to write magazine articles; not only does it give you writing practice, it validates you as a publishable freelance writer. Your own blog or website is where magazine editors, experts you want to interview, and your own readers can learn more about you as a writer. After I created The Adventurous Writer I started my blogs, one right after the other. And, if you learn how to monetize your blog, it can be a good source of passive income.
Your own blog is worth the investment of your time and energy – especially if you’re serious about learning how to write magazine articles, get published, and become a successful freelance writer.
10. Help your interviewees sound good
My final tip on how to write a good magazine article involves interviewing experts or sources. Direct quotes or dialogue is a fantastic way to bring your story to life! Interviewing experts or regular folk is good for at least two reasons:
- You can include dialogue, which breaks up paragraphs or chunks of text
- Dialogue or direct quotes add flavor and color to your article
A word on how to write what an interviewee said to you: “No article has ever been published in which every word spoken is printed exactly as it was said,” writes McKinney. “You can cut. You can rewrite if necessary to make the speaker’s meaning more clear. You can rearrange the order in which the words were spoken – but you can never, never distort the meaning.”
Your turn! Why are you looking for tips on how to write a magazine article? Is it a school assignment, or do you want to be a freelance writer?
If you’re hoping to make money writing, know what writers get paid. Read Freelance Writing Pay Rates for Newspaper and Magazine Articles.
If you want to get published quickly, read The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks by Susan Shapiro. She is a writing professor who has taught more than 25,000 students of all ages and backgrounds at schools such as New York University, Columbia, Temple, The New School, and Harvard University. In The Byline Bible she describes her wildly popular “Instant Gratification Takes Too Long” technique that helps writers get their magazine articles published quickly.