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How I Write About Anything — And I Get Paid For It

9 October 2019

From Medium:

One of my best-received articles ever was about cigars, written for a highly specialized magazine. I knew nothing about cigars, I’d never smoked one, and I was utterly clueless about them right until the day I took on the assignment.

Five days later, I delivered a story so well-crafted, informative, and inspiring, that they accepted the article and hired me on the spot. I never told them that five days ago, I could not tell the one end of the cigar from the other. They congratulated me, and I got paid.

Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of articles for printed magazines and online publications about:

  • Technology and gadgets
  • Economy and commerce
  • Startups and business
  • Self-help
  • US politics and international relations
  • Health and fitness
  • Environment
  • Sex advice
  • History
  • I’ve also worked for a TV documentary series.

I’m not an expert by profession in any of these fields. I hold no college degree. All I have is my curiosity, and the ability to turn large pieces of information into easily consumed chunks of every-day wisdom.

. . . .

Step 1: Find a subject that appeals to you

It’s much easier to write about something that inspires you. Only your interests can boost your curiosity. I once wrote a how-to story about scuba diving in the Greek islands. I knew nothing about scuba, but I love snorkeling and marine life. The connection was already there.

Step 2: Research

It’s the Internet age; everything is one click away. Start reading articles, essays, and book summaries. Watch TED talks, keep notes, highlight content. Put an asterisk on terms or ideas you don’t understand.

For my cigar story, I read several magazines and online articles. I made a list of applicable terms that would make me appear as an expert. I interviewed the owner of a cigar shop with carefully crafted questions. And I googled everything to death.

Step 3: Ask an expert

Most people love to share their wisdom. Find an expert in the subject and pick her brain. But do your homework. You don’t want to appear silly or clueless. They will appreciate it if you arrive prepared.

Take notes, highlight terms, use whole sentences, and attribute them to the expert. Your information needs to be valid and verifiable. Your audience needs facts, not just your opinion.

Step 4: Connect the dots

With all the information in hand, start making connections. For me, it’s all about comprehension and interpretation. A successful columnist is the one who can find hidden relationships between seemingly unconnected items.

Your readers will be delighted to discover unexpected connections that, in hindsight, look perfectly explainable. Where everyone sees a cooking pot, you will show them the Ursa Major.

Step 5: Explain it to a child

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The online audience has the attention span of a six-year-old, and you need to keep their attention long enough to continue reading.

. . . .

Step 6: Wrap it like a present

Everybody loves gifts. Your readers will be delighted to find hard-collected information with profound meaning, in easily consumed paragraphs and a scannable format.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG thinks the OP explains a lot about the quality of much of the information he finds online.

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15 Comments to “How I Write About Anything — And I Get Paid For It”

  1. Sounds like an incredible amount of work for a niche job that might not even lead to further assignments.

    Unless free-lance work is really lucrative. Or staff writing.

    If I’m going to put in that much effort, there better be a nice fat volume with my name on it on Amazon to go with the previous one.

  2. No apology required. When you like writing novels or feel impelled to, it is easy to forget that not everyone shares the impulse.

  3. Richard Hershberger

    I’m with PG on this one. The idea that you can in five days go from knowing nothing about a subject to writing an informative article on it for a specialist magazine? “Does not ring true” is the polite response. It may be that he is a good enough writer to BS his way through it, but that only takes you so far. Even this might be generous. A google of his name fails to turn up articles under his byline. I did the same with my own name as a control. A lot of other stuff comes up, but my baseball history pieces come up as well.

  4. The OP rings true. Online editors are often looking for informative, concise articles filled with keyword power that will feature well in search results. As long as you can write clearly and authoritatively about the subject, and as long as there are no factual errors, you can write about any topic and get it published regardless of your initial understanding of the topic. I would argue that fiction writers do this all the time.

  5. I would argue that fiction writers do this all the time.

    That’s because it’s fiction.

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