"Writing Articles About The World Around You" by Marcia Yudkin: A Book Review
Those who aspire to do anything well usually find themselves asking for advice from professional sources. If you wanted to know what major league baseball was really like, would you consult a professional observer/journalist/commentator, or consult a professional major leaguer? Both have credentials, but my guess is that you would choose the major league players.
In terms of article writing, Marcia Yudkin is a major leaguer. She has been published in many periodicals including the New York Time Magazine and Cosmopolitan. She is a popular speaker at writing conferences and the like. Her eight books of instruction include another popular book entitled, "How to be a More Productive Writer."
This review will focus on what I find are some key helpful ideas for article writers. Her instruction has been, to date, the best piece I have read on the details of writing an article. For example, with regard to product reviews, "Mentioning positive and negative points about an item" is what a colleague offered by way of advice. "Unless something is complete rubbish, I always try to end on a positive note." If he reviews items a child might have an insightful opinion on, he consults his children. Kids come in handy.
The Larger and More Precise Part
A first concept that I am keen on is the difference between an idea and an angle. An idea for an article is a general term. If you wanted to write an article about WWI fighter biplanes (the idea), would you focus on the features of the aircraft, their effect on the outcome of the war, how the infantry viewed them, or their cost in lives and money? The four possibilities are the angles. Your reading audience will determine the angle. Writing for four different groups yields four different stories. Unlike Yudkin's articles on paper, we can use key words. One can actually determine a popular angle from them. Examples are: The Evolution of Machine Guns in World War I Airplanes", "Aircraft Observation and Bombing Influences on World War I", "World War I Soldiers and Infantry Casualties from Strafing", "The Costs of World War I: Political, Economic, and Social Effects of World War 1."
Little Can Be Big
Another idea of value is not to underestimate even the slightest twist to an article theme. Reading periodicals frequently exposes the writer to how others use the "twist." In my case, I am addicted to reading gold mining and prospecting magazines and trade papers.
Though I have written articles on the subject of prospecting and gold, the idea has crossed my mind to entitle an article, "The Golden Nuggets I Have Discovered." Gold is very, very difficult to find. My article would not be about uncovering gold nuggets per se, but rather the truths discovered about the hobby. Hardly anyone gets rich prospecting, and most prospectors learn this fairly quickly. However, the places you travel to try to find it are absolutely beautiful. Many times you head for a dry stream bed or a running creek. Where there is water there are usually tall mature trees on sections of a claim. These areas most frequently contain fields of broken quartz sparkling in the sun, washed far from their lode in the mountains. Abandoned mines are not uncommon. These possibilities for article material would appeal to the outdoorsman and not just a prospector.
Mixing It Up
The next jewel I ran across is the notion of a hybrid piece. This genre relates the facts of a story while giving examples from personal experience. Entwine statistics in your own story. One of my daughters developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) at an early age. It affects children 16 and under. Girls are more than twice as likely as boys to acquire this form of arthritis. When your child after 15 months has to drag her foot as she pulls herself up and moves around a chair, you know something is terribly wrong. Once you have a diagnosis, there begins a number of experiences in trying to deal with it the best you can. Thankfully for us, our girl was one of the "75%" of young females who outgrow it by puberty. If you have a personal story about any chronic health problem, it probably involves shock, sadness, learning, humor, and joy. Pick the angles and let your medical problem punctuate the staid data.
Friends Can Be Full of It
"The expertise you feature doesn't even have to be yours." The world is full of passionate folks. Many of you have friends who have accomplished all sorts of things, have hobbies that they are obsessive about, do things daily that might curl your hair, and much more. Sure, you can write a very formal interview, or you can sit and take notes while a friend or associate unlocks a story that will rivet most audiences.
In my own case, I have been lucky enough to hear many stories from people and have grown to appreciate the pain, anxiety, and stubbornness that these people have displayed in their lives. One of my friends who was a bit older than me was Latvian. He experienced the take over of his country by the Soviet Union, and he had a great dislike for communism. Around 1939-1940 when the Germans were moving across the Balkans toward Russia, my friend had a really nasty decision to make. Do I participate in the Russian Army and fight the Nazis, or do I join the German Army to the west and fight the Russians? He had to choose or otherwise be killed. You think you have tough decisions? He recently passed, and I often remember his story in detail when I think I have something onerous to decide. Have any of you ever been forced to eat a frozen potato when there was nothing else to eat? Have you covered trenches to protect yourself from artillery bursts in the forest air that blew thousands of splintered wood pieces down - many of which stabbed your friends to death? Although pretty intense and dramatic, your friends have their own stories others would like to hear about through you.
Trendy Subjects Sell
While we know that evergreen articles have staying power and can earn for months or years, a writer can take advantage of a trend and write for an audience that will last. One story Yudkin heard from an author concerned "women over sixty who had started new careers." "It originated in just listening to her mother talk about what was new with her friends." The key is to differentiate between a substantial trend and a temporary trend. Fashion design is a quick passing trend. Demographic trends involving large populations have staying power.
With our new economy, slow growth and stagnating incomes seem to be a pattern that will last. Unless the rest of the world decides to reject capitalism, which I wouldn't want to bet on, competition will put pressure on American employment. Twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years ago we were able to sustain an extremely high standard of living because of our manufacturing and service prowess. Then, the computer and all of its resulting technologies afforded us another niche to prosper in. But now, everyone, including those who retired see their fixed and lagging incomes buying less. Every year my health insurance goes up, decreasing the amount I can use to pay other bills. Of course, it can be looked at as a good thing, or a bad thing.
I would love to do an interview with folks who are retired and have moved into the Internet market to supplement their retirement. Working from home is certainly better than the daily drive to the plant. To be offered a way of being creative and earning some money is a great bonus. I am getting closer and closer to the $50 per month HubPages threshold - a threshold that will allow me to continue to buy groceries at the end of the month! I know I am not alone. Whether a writer keys on an interview that unveils different, even unique job search skills, experiences interviewing, an issue of age discrimination, or a new outlook on an aging generation's search for work, it can all be interesting and helpful to the reader.
Look At The Market First
"Many beginners assume that writing for publication involves composing a work in the heat of inspiration and then shopping the completed manuscript until someone buys it."
This has been the pattern I followed. I tried to think of something I had experience with and enjoyed for an article subject. It will generate good articles, but after awhile it gets harder and harder to think of what to write about. I think keywords can help here.
For an experiment, I went to the Google Keyword Tool and inserted something I am interested in in an attempt to find a subject that would be popular to a niche. I have had some success with articles about how to grow fruit trees in Arizona. First, I put in "Southwest fruit trees". Next, I clicked on "desert." Then, I clicked on "desert fruit trees." At this point I clicked on "more words like this." A word showed up that I had never seen. It was "espaliere." Continuing, I clicked and found "espaliered fruit trees." I discovered that to espaliere a fruit tree is to train it to grow flat, as against a wall, by pruning and tying it up. I was very interested - but sometimes growing fruit trees in the hot desert Southwest requires special attention. Putting in a new term for the search at keywords, I wrote "how to espalier fruit trees in the desert." Up came "desert". And finally (I thought this vicarious search was interesting!), I put in Google search "espaliere fruit trees in the desert."
Here, I found a bonanza. I found a subject I was interested in even though it was not about espariered fruit trees! I found an article about the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project begun in 2003. When Father Kino built missions in Southern Arizona, he created orchards with fruit and nut trees he had acquired from the Mediterranean, native fruits like the quince, Asian fruit trees (peach), or the trees common to the Old World in Europe. Some of the trees came from the Apache Highlands where I live. The project will identify stocks of fruit trees and will try to recreate the orchards of the late 17th century and early 18th century. The acreage where San Xavier del Bac Mission in Tucson and Mission San Jose de Tumacacori south of Tucson had their orchards have been purchased for each mission. This is something I will research and thoroughly enjoy while providing information to a niche group and helping me with my garden. At the same time, don't forget that I can now learn about espalier fruit trees!
More Yudkin Topics
1. Search out #1 positioned articles
2. Look at news from professional, trade, and hobby associations
3. Look through college and adult education catalogs
4. Research public relations departments of corporations
5. Use your grapevine
6. Don't forget the yellow pages
7. "Vivid conversational writing" (color, specificity, and detail)
8. Analyze your sentence structure and focus on balance
And Then There Is Writing Software!
For an informative read of 207 pages, it is impossible to do this work complete justice in a book review. I have found that as I write I continue to question what I am doing based on what Marcia Yudkin has written. Her writing style is easy to cover while her points stick because they are chock full of meaning. This is a book I intend to keep on my shelf. A used copy can be attained for a very reasonable price, and what the book contains is worth far more than that cost, for sure.
© 2013 John R Wilsdon
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