How-tos

How-to-write posts, with step-by-step guidance and instruction on different aspects, genres, and methods of writing.

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Sports are a favorite nonfiction article topic for kids

If you ask children whether fiction or nonfiction is more fun to read, most will say fiction. After all, a good story is hard to put down. So imagine kids flipping through a children’s magazine, their eyes grazing over the choices of reading material. Will they skip the articles and home in on the stories? You might be surprised. Nonfiction can be just as eye-catching and engaging to read as fiction.

In fact, popular children’s magazines are chockfull of nonfiction articles, and kids are devouring every word. It’s welcome news for parents since reading nonfiction helps kids gain valuable information, expands their curiosity, builds their vocabulary, and prepares them for handling life experiences. Children’s article writers benefit too because children’s magazine editors are always on the lookout for good nonfiction submissions—pieces that draw readers in and keep them hooked.

Think you’d like to try your hand at writing nonfiction articles for kids? Give this fun and marketable genre a go. These five steps will help you captivate the minds of young readers with true tales that’ll teach, inspire, and entertain like a favorite short story:

Choose a Topic That Appeals to Kids

Although there are plenty of things to write about, the question children’s article writers have to ask is, what do today’s kids like to read about? A good way to find that out is to ask kids themselves, or check with teachers, librarians, or other professionals who work with children. Children’s magazine editors may not know exactly what they’re looking for in a submission topic, but they’ll favor subjects that appeal to their readers and that capture the spirit of the magazine.

Naturally, it helps to know something about the topic you choose. Not only will you have expertise to share, but your passion for the subject will also shine through in your writing. Of course, everything is researchable, so not knowing about a subject shouldn’t stop you from writing about it. Some of today’s hottest topics for kids include animals, technology, the environment, fashion, history, social media, sports, music, school, video games, and world cultures. Many children’s magazines, including the Fun for Kidz magazines, Cricket magazines, and Highlights, conveniently list monthly themes or needed topics in their writer’s guidelines.

Once a general topic is selected, it’s time to narrow it down and give it a specific focus. Too broad a topic and you’ll lose the reader through boredom or information overload. Let’s say you want to write a piece on animals. Think of all the ways you could reduce this broad topic to something more concrete and manageable, like a certain type of animal, an animal behavior, or a physical characteristic of an animal. Even these ideas may not be specific enough, though. Topics often require several rounds of fine-tuning before they’re ready for the writing process. And it isn’t enough to just narrow down a topic; you’ll also have to freshen it up.

Consider the subtopic “dogs.” Many children’s magazines have published articles about dogs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another piece on this popular subject. The trick is to find a new angle, something that hasn’t yet been covered or done before—a new breed, a teen celebrity’s adorable pooch, or a recently-discovered canine fossil. I once caught an editor’s attention with an article about the then-latest dog sport craze, agility, and how to train a dog at home using common household props.

Another way to freshen up a piece is through writing style or voice. Not too long ago, I came across an issue of a children’s magazine that contained an article about therapy dogs. While this topic was nothing new, the therapy dog served as the narrator of the story, giving a unique perspective to the topic.

Borrow Tools from Fiction

When writing nonfiction articles for kids, it also helps to think like a fiction writer. Suppose you’re writing a short biography of a famous person. A factual summary of the person’s life probably wouldn’t engage kids, but a gripping narrative that contains plenty of action, rich characterization, and lively dialogue likely would. Nonfiction that has a storytelling quality to it makes for a much better read, especially for children.

Also like fiction, engaging nonfiction takes an enticing opening, a paragraph that provides a hook. In fact, an article that doesn’t hook the reader at the beginning, despite an overall good story, will likely end up in a pile with other unread material. Fortunately, there are many ways to hook readers: tell an interesting anecdote, ask an intriguing question, or blow kids away with an awesome fact or figure, to name a few.

Once readers are hooked, however, keeping them interested demands another important element. Lee Wyndham summarizes it best in her acclaimed book Writing for Children and Teenagers: “Nonfiction writing, whether for articles or books, must have punch, an aliveness.” This level of excitement in writing can be achieved through pace.

Like fiction, nonfiction articles for kids work best when the pace moves at a fast clip. Many tools used in fiction can help speed up the pace, like action, tension and suspense, and vivid, coherent descriptions that show rather than tell. Long, drawn-out explanations that simply recount a set of facts, on the other hand, will fall flat with young readers.

Wow Children with Fascinating Details

While topics and tools are important, writing compelling nonfiction articles for children often boils down to details. Kids love them—obscure, amazing, relevant, unknown, and well-researched details, that is—so finding them is key.

Where can you look for those fascinating tidbits of information? Books, periodicals, and the internet are all useful resources, but some of the best information can be found in places that aren’t so obvious. Visit a historical library and dig through unpublished materials. Head to a museum to study the exhibits. Find an expert on your topic and ask for an interview. Watch a movie, take a trip, or do an experiment. Important and quirky details are often discovered by simply observing.

Although it’s helpful to gather as many details as possible, keep in mind that not everything will make it into your article. Some details won’t be appropriate for the targeted age group or relevant to the theme of the article. But don’t be too quick to discard those unused morsels of information. Even if they don’t fit in the body of the article, they might work well in a sidebar. Sidebars are not only a great place for interesting “extra” details that somehow relate to the article; they’re a potential selling point for editors.

One more thing worth mentioning about details: don’t make them up. Some harmless fictionalizing is acceptable in nonfiction writing, but conjuring up material that doesn’t exist or facts that don’t ring true won’t do. Bibliographies or source lists are usually required by editors and, trust me, fact-checking is done. Avoid using details that can’t be corroborated.

Structure Children’s Writing for Readability

Who likes to read long sentences and paragraphs with few breaks and no variety? Definitely not kids. They prefer material that’s visibly appealing and well organized, especially when it comes to nonfiction. How an article appears and flows can actually make all the difference to young readers, who may not even attempt to read a dull, tedious-looking piece of writing. An attractive, structured article is much more inviting.

To organize your writing, consider using an outline. Many writers, including myself, do. Outlines help me lay out an article’s beginning, middle, and end and keep me from rambling and getting off topic. But there are other tricks that come in handy when it comes to structuring a children’s article for readability. They include:

  • Vary the sentences in length and structure. Short sentences intermixed with long ones make the writing flow better and allow readers to pause and take a breath.
  • Break up lengthy articles with subheadings, bulleted lists, or one-sentence paragraphs. Big blocks of print are hard on the eyes and look uninviting.
  • Use dialogue if possible and set it off with proper punctuation and paragraphing.
  • Avoid clutter, like redundant words and too many commas and exclamation points (which should be minimally used, if at all).
  • Create sidebars or related activities, such as games, puzzles, recipes, or quizzes, to offer variety.
  • Submit graphics, illustrations, and other images with your article. Visuals add life and color to any piece of writing.

Strive to write an article that’s clean, coherent, and well organized. Articles that look fun and easy to read will have a better chance of getting noticed, purchased, and read.

End with Closure but Not Finality

Everyone likes endings that provide closure, but closure doesn’t always mean finality. In fact, an ending that leaves kids curious to know more or still thinking about the piece long after they’ve read the last sentence is one that does the job well. Steer clear of endings that consist of a basic summary.

That’s not to say that summarizing the point or purpose of a nonfiction article for kids isn’t an important part of a good ending. It is. But summaries alone are a letdown for children and can make an article easy to forget. Instead, offer the reader something extra at the close, like a thought-provoking statement, contact information, or further reading for those who wish to explore the topic in more detail.

One of the best ways to end an article for kids is to use humor. It worked for me on a submission to a popular e-zine for kids. We loved your piece, the editor told me, but you need to add something clever at the end before we’ll accept it. I did, and it sealed the deal. Whether you use a play on words or amusing final remarks, funny endings are a hit with children and editors.

And don’t be fooled into thinking article endings need to be a full paragraph long. In fact, short, snappy, one or two sentence endings often have a bigger impact than a paragraph or longer conclusions.

Ready to get started writing articles for kids? Before delving into this exciting genre, it’s a good idea to review back issues of children’s magazines for examples of topics that interest kids, writing styles that click with editors, and other details related to nonfiction article writing for children. Then follow the above steps, and learn how to engage young readers and keep them wanting more, even after the final paragraph is read.

For a directory of children’s magazines that seek submissions, check out Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, which is updated yearly and available as an ebook or in bookstores and public libraries. For a shorter list of popular children’s magazines and submissions guidelines, take a look at this article.

For general information on writing your best, including your best a children’s article, please check out my ebook No Average Writer: How to Stand Out in the Writing Crowd and Write Your Best.

Photo Credit: Mark Thomas, Pixabay

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Wish you could put more emotion in your writing? If you’re worried you’ll sound unprofessional or you’re just plain uncomfortable showing feelings, here’s some good news: it’s okay to write with the heart. In fact, it can bring life to your words, engage your readers, and free your spirit. But there is a catch—putting emotion in your writing must be done with care in order to work. With Valentine’s Day nearing, why not let it inspire you to take your feelings to the page. These ideas will help you write with the heart:

Remember To Show

You may be tired of hearing the mantra “show don’t tell,” but in order to write with the heart, you have to take those three words to heart. When you let readers tap into the senses by showing rather than telling, they’ll feel what you’re feeling, no explanation necessary. And that makes writing with emotion easier for you and more satisfying to experience for the reader.

Make It Relatable

Exposing your emotions in writing is a lot less intimidating if readers get what you’re saying. Gushing over something that no one but you cares about or can relate to won’t draw readers in and keep them interested. In fact, it might turn them off. When you write with the heart, make sure people connect with your feelings. In other words, always keep your audience in mind.

Be Honest and Real

Emotions in writing can come off as overdone, contrived, or fake if they’re not heartfelt. Whatever it is you’re describing should actually touch or move you. Think of people who feign emotion and feelings in person. It shows. The same thing will happen if you pretend on paper. Be real and true to yourself, and writing with the heart will come easily, naturally, and credibly.

Follow Up with Your Head

When you write with the heart, the initial draft can sound pretty raw. That’s why it’s important to take a second, third, or even fourth look at your work. You might even set your writing aside for a day or two. Then go back and edit with your head—tone down your words, fix sentences so they flow better, and make sure your point or message filters through the emotion.

Don’t be afraid to show your feelings on paper. Done with care, writing with the heart can be highly gratifying and inspiring for you and your readers.

 

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Before you know it, the holidays will be here. For those of us writers-who-like-to-bake, that means one thing: it’s time to start thinking about making Christmas cookies and other holiday goodies. But don’t put away your writing tools while you’re mulling over recipe ideas. Instead, why not combine the two and craft an irresistible holiday treat recipe? You can share it with friends, submit it for sale, or just have it tweaked and ready to use when baking day arrives. Writing a holiday cookie recipe is also a fun diversion from the usual routine and a great way to learn about recipe writing. Here are some important tips to follow:

Make It Easy

Complicated holiday recipes aren’t just complicated to write; they’re hard to follow. Avoid too many steps, wordy instructions, and using unfamiliar baking terms and processes. Holiday baking should be fun, easy, and festive, not tedious and complex. The simpler and clearer the recipe, the better.

Be Fresh (Or Add a Fresh Twist)

Write a recipe that’s truly yours. Many Christmas cookie and holiday treat recipes are out there, but only yours is made by you. Make sure it’s unique. If crafting your own version of a well-known holiday treat, add a fresh twist to it—an unusual ingredient, shape, or texture that makes it one-of-a-kind.

Use Common Ingredients

Some of the best holiday recipes (or any recipes for that matter) are those made with common, everyday ingredients. No one likes to search far and wide for specialty baking items. In fact, most people will scan a recipe first to see if they have the ingredients on hand or they’re easy to buy. Keep in mind that most grocery stores carry popular holiday baking ingredients during the season.

Offer Extra Tips

What makes your recipe come out beautifully every time may be a baking technique you follow, like roasting nuts before adding them to the batter, refrigerating dough overnight, or using unsalted versus salted butter in your recipe. Be sure to include any tips that give your recipe that extra level of perfection and deliciousness.

Include a Picture

Pictures make all the difference when it comes to trying new recipes. If the end result looks tasty and appealing, chances are someone is going to want to bake it. Use an attractive display—a colorful holiday platter, for example—and photograph your masterpiece to include with your recipe.

Ready to do some recipe writing before you start your holiday baking? You’ll appreciate your well-crafted treasure for seasons to come—and so will others.

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Have you been wanting to start journaling but can’t seem to take the first step? Maybe you’re worried you don’t have anything to write about or you won’t remember to do it every day or you’ll be lousy at it. Well here’s some good news: when it comes to journaling, there’s nothing to fear! In fact, journal writing is about the most laid-back, carefree activity around. It’s also one of the most rewarding.

But don’t just listen to me. Follow these tips for getting started journaling and see for yourself how fearless and fun writing in a journal can be.

Take a No-Pressure Attitude

Simply put, journal writing is a way to explore your creativity and just be yourself. No one but you has to see your journal, which should take the pressure off when it comes to rules and expectations. Don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure, neatness, or tone; journals are no place for perfectionism. Dismiss the notion that you have to write daily, too. Think of your journal as a whatever-you-want-it-to-be book, a place to do your thing however you wish anytime you choose.

Get Some Ideas

Don’t worry if you can’t come up with something to write about. Many others have and they like to share their ideas. In fact, there’s a whole world of journaling topics out there, and a quick search will reveal them. Check out this post of 33 journal writing ideas for starters. Or, come up with ideas on your own. Jot down a list of places, people, foods, animals, seasons, emotions, colors, books, you name it. Then choose a subtopic and get writing. It’s as simple as that!

Be Choosy About Your Journal

Since your journal is something you’re going to use regularly, make sure it’s a size, style, and format that’s attractive—to you. Everyone has different preferences on details, so take the time to look at many journal options and decide which is the most appealing. Some writers prefer lined pages, for example, while others like them blank. You might favor a small journal that fits in your purse or a larger one for your briefcase or gym bag. Be choosy and find a journal that's welcoming and functional to use.

Consider a Bullet Journal

Many writers are turning to the bullet-style journal for journaling. If you’re just getting started journaling, this can be a great option. Bullet journals serve multiple purposes. They’re a place to record writing activity, sketch out goals, manage submissions, brainstorm for writing ideas, take notes, store research, doodle, and of course journal. To learn more about bullet journaling, see The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers by Writer's Edit.

Do a Practice Run

If you're afraid to open that crisp, new journal you bought or got as a gift, why not ease into it. Grab a sheet of scratch paper and do some practice journaling. It doesn’t matter what you write—a description of your mood, a short acrostic poem, or a paragraph discussing your writing goals for the month—just start writing. A practice run will confirm how easy writing a journal entry is. Once you get comfy with this new activity, open the first page of your journal and let the words flow.

Excited to get started journaling? You should be. Take the fearless approach, and enjoy the fun, fulfillment, and productivity that await you.

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Health and wellness is all the rage these days, so it’s no wonder people are making career choices in fields related to healthcare. As a writer, you can too. Not only is health writing a lucrative niche, you’ll gain important knowledge about how to keep you and your family healthy. Plus, it’s easy to get started as a health writer. There are various paths you can take to work your way up to a health writing expert. Here are a few that’ll put you on the right and robust track:

Begin with Schooling

Many study programs are available to help you learn the ropes of health writing. One of the most well-known and respected options is the Essential Skills Certificate program from the American Medical Writers Association. The AMWA also offers a variety of individual online classes in health writing. Another idea is to take courses through a local college on subjects related to health, like pharmacology or nutrition, to acquire background knowledge for writing in the health field.

Be a Self-Learner

Not the student type? With a little dedication and perseverance, you can learn to be a health writer on your own. Start by getting to know the world of healthcare. Read about health topics online, pour over health journals at the library, do some research on health topics that interest you, or talk to people in the health and medical fields. Then starting writing and submitting your work. Build a name for yourself as a health writer, and enjoy the perks that come with your newly acquired expertise.

Draw from Experience

Many successful health writers got their passion from experience. Maybe they’re longtime health and fitness nuts, perhaps they’ve been dealing with a lifelong medical issue, or possibly they know someone in the field who inspired them.  If you have any life experiences with health, use them to your advantage as a writer. Dig into your repertoire of health knowledge and start writing about it. You might be surprised at how much information you already have that can help educate the public.

Join a Group or Association

Sometimes your writing peers can be your biggest career boosters, so make a point to make contacts in the health writing world. Become a member of a health writing association, like the American Medical Writers Association, the Association of Healthcare Journalists, or the National Association of Science Writers. Look for local chapters and attend meetings and events. Or, join a private writing group of like-minded health writers. The important thing is to make a point to get connected!

Health writing is a fun, lucrative field with endless possibilities for writers. If you’ve wanted to delve into this high-opportunity niche, don’t hesitate. You’ll set yourself up for a thriving career for years to come.

Image by Nick Youngson

 

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people talkingAs writers, we’re often reticent about telling non-writers what we do. Maybe it’s because we’re not like most working adults. We don’t leave our homes in the morning to head to the office. We don’t put on suits or skirts or “business casual” attire. We work odd hours with no set schedule. We don’t have regular paychecks, and we can’t refer to our co-workers because, generally speaking, we don’t have them.  So what’s there to tell?

On the other hand, by not telling people what we do, we risk getting them to come to their own conclusions. Some non-writers think we write just for fun, like it’s an activity similar to gardening or pottery. Others wonder how we can spend so much time punching away at our keyboards, alone, with no formal structure. Still others don’t think anything about our writing at all, like it doesn’t really exist.

Of course, there are some non-writers who take a great interest in what we do. They want to know what we’re writing about, how they can get a copy of it, and whether we have a future project in the works. It’s nice to have those select few to discuss our writing with. But maybe that’s not enough. Maybe it’s time to spread the news to other non-writers. It might be awkward at first, but there’s a good chance we’d gain some important benefits—like new contacts, meaningful conversation, and additional supporters. Besides, there really isn’t anything to lose, other than a misperception of what we do.

So how do you go about discussing your writing with people who don’t know or wonder or ask about it? Here are five ways to start the conversation:

  1. Share a piece of writing. Are you especially proud of something you’ve recently written? Share it with non-writers. Ask if they’d like to read it and give you feedback, or describe the piece and let them know why it's special to you. Sharing your writing doesn’t just get others to notice your work; it’s also a great way to fine-tune and strengthen your writing—free of charge!
  2. Find a connection. While visiting with a non-writer, try to connect your writing to the topic at hand. If you’re discussing music, for example, tell about the piece you wrote on a famous musician or how you’d like to try your hand at composing lyrics. A conversation about difficult co-workers might be an opportunity to describe a disagreement you had with an editor.
  3. Conduct an interview. Think of a good writing idea that involves interviewing non-writer friends, family, or acquaintances. Get them involved in your project by making them a part of it. Explain what your objective is in writing the piece and why their expert opinion is important. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll take an interest in your writing.
  4. Announce your successes. Don’t be shy about telling non-writers when you’ve sold an article, won a writing contest, or finished a book manuscript. These are all major feats, worth announcing and celebrating. Other people don’t hesitate expressing their recent promotion, pay raise, or kudos for a job well done; neither should you.
  5. Just say it. Sometimes, you just have to be bold and start a conversation about your writing without being provoked. Explain what you do with your time and how your writing, like any job, helps define you. Let others witness your passion and devotion toward your work.

Give the above conversation starters a try. Discussing your writing with non-writers is easier done than said—and may benefit you more than you think.

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word imageIf you entered last month’s six-word short story contest (see my previous blog post), you’ve already practiced the concept of how to say a lot in a little space—a really little space. But most people who write short pieces write more than six words. A short piece can be anything from a three-sentence filler to a half-page recipe to a page-long children’s article. In fact, there are all kinds of opportunities for writing short. Not everyone can pull it off, though. It takes skill to write something engaging, useful, and complete that’s also brief. Still, writing short pieces can be a fun and lucrative way to write. Here are a few tips to help make the process a little easier:

  1. Avoid clutter.  Clutter, or wordiness, is a problem for many writers. For short pieces, there’s simply no room for it. Unnecessary adjectives, most adverbs, redundant phrases, and even whole sentences and paragraphs that add nothing new or unique to your writing all constitute clutter. Avoid it.
  2. Get to the point. If you’re going to write short, you can’t waste time with lengthy, rambling introductions. Zero in on what you’re trying to say as quickly as possible. A crisp, snappy lead-in works well for shorter pieces.
  3. Strive for smooth.  No matter its length, every piece of writing should have flow. You can scale back on words without diminishing readability. Alter short sentences with longer ones, use transitional words between sentences and paragraphs, and be coherent. A smooth read is key.
  4. Make it matter. It doesn’t take a lot of space to say something important.  A brief article or sidebar can be every bit as relevant and engaging as a longer piece, as long as you keep your target audience in mind, entertain or enlighten them, and write with confidence and flair.
  5. Flesh out the prime details. Some details may seem too important to leave off, but when writing short, you may be forced to do some weeding out. Stick to the details that relate directly to your message and that offer something new and unique for the reader.

Besides being a fun, lucrative activity, writing short is a great way to hone your writing skills. Try your hand at writing a helpful “front of book” tip for a women’s magazine, a craft for a children’s e-zine, instructions for a manual, or a how-to article for a newsletter. There are all kinds of markets for short pieces. Blogs, popular magazines, websites, anthology books, journals, and newspapers all accept them. Check out Writer’s Market for more ideas.

Image by Maria Reyes-McDavis