To learn how to write interesting magazine or newspaper articles, you need to study how news writers do it. These tips are inspired by a newspaper article by Vancouver Sun reporter, Peter McKnight.
McKnight’s article is all about the F-word – but that’s not what makes his writing interesting! He could write about fluff, and I’d ignore a house fire to read every word. He’s that good with words.
Speaking of words…“Cute word …One syllable, short ‘u,’” says George Carlin. “You know, it starts easy. Starts with a nice soft sound — “fuh” — and ends with a “kuh.” Right? A little something for everyone.”
This cute-y pie of a word was the subject of a flurry of newspaper articles and blog posts recently; Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson didn’t realize his microphone was on when he called outspoken activists “f–king hacks.” (ah, to be a newspaper writer that week!).
And there, fellow scribes, is your first tip for better writing: what you write about is less important that how you write it. That’s what makes your writing interesting: style and voice. If your writing career isn’t as strong as you’d like, read How to Write Articles for Newspapers & Magazines: Jump-Start Your Career.
Here are seven ways to improve your writing, inspired by McKnight’s column…
Read newspaper and magazine articles in print
You know how writers print out their work on paper to edit and revise? Well, the same goes for improving your writing skills. We need to see words on actual paper to help us identify what works and what doesn’t work. I started subscribing to the Vancouver Sun three weeks ago, to see if I’d get more ideas and learn more about writing…and I have. I’m reading articles I’d never otherwise read and chewing on writing I’d never otherwise chew. I’m learning the difference between *yawn* newspaper articles and interesting newspaper articles. Reading print newspapers with my editor’s hat on is worth the subscription fee, and possibly even worth the environmental impact.
Point your finger at your readers
“You’re also obviously a bit of prude, but then you’re not alone,” writes McKnight in his newspaper article Warning: This is About One F—ing Taboo Word. “My editors are equally squeamish about the f-word, as they wouldn’t allow me to write it out without using those f—ing dashes.” Notice how the word “you” snaps you to attention, and makes you look at yourself (Who me – a prude? Couldn’t be). To write interesting articles, call your readers names. Challenge them. Accuse them. Give them something to get all riled up about!
Give readers a glimpse into your world
McKnight writes that his editors won’t let him write about the f-word, and calls them prudes. That’s conflict! Readers (and editors, and publishers, and literary agents) love conflict. This better writing tip is older than my great-granny’s wedding ring…and equally effective.
Make your readers work for it
“Course, just about everyone seems a little prudish about the f-word,” writes McKnight. “Witness the reaction to Gregor Robertson’s recent, impromptu George Carlin routine, in which the mayor managed to both insult concerned citizens and use the f-bomb twice. Fooking Robertson.” A metaphor like “George Carlin routine” is much more interesting than saying “the mayor said the f-word.” This is a clever use of the “show, don’t tell” writing tip – and it makes his newspaper article much more interesting.
Mention an interesting research study, current event, or news tip
McKnight cites a current research study about how cursing relieves pain, which adds a whole ‘nother dimension to his newspaper article: “As if you needed further evidence of its power, at least one study has documented that cursing helps to relieve pain, which is why it works so well when you bang your thumb with a hammer.” This timely tidbit shows that McKnight has his eye on the new research ball – and it gives his readers a titch more information than if he merely shared his opinion.
Tie your article up with a pretty pink (or blue) bow
Here’s McKnight’s concluding sentence: “So perhaps we ought to use [the f-word] sparingly, which means my editors are right. Fooking right.” This reporter started his article by calling his readers and editors prudes, and ends by playfully admitting they’re right. There’s something to that whole circular thing your writing teacher blabbed on about (refer to your introduction when you write a conclusion). Tying your article up gives readers a sense of closure, and helps writers realize they’ve finally finished the f–king article.
Do you read print magazine or newspaper articles with your editor’s hat on? It’s more work, but it’ll make your writing better – whether you’re writing a feature newspaper article or a letter to your Nana.
For more writing tips, read Write More Creatively by Dodging These Creativity Killers.