Monday, 26 January 2015

Dr Ivan’s Guide to Writing Like a Real Writer: Part Four: How to Write a Column

by Derek Duggan

Everybody does lots of writing every day. We post on social media sites to let people know that we have something to sell, or that we’ve just seen a cute cat by the road in Winterbourne, or that we caused a huge pile up on the M32 while typing that last post. LOL. Then there are the recipes we jot down, the notes to teachers and the ‘Sorry I Caused a Crash that Left You in Traction For Six Months’ cards that are such a feature of modern life (and which we looked at extensively in Dr Ivan’s Guide to Writing Like a Real Writer: Part Three: Keeping it Light When Apologising for Causing a Massive Motorway Pile Up Near Winterbourne – which I’m sure we’ll all agree was hilarious).

Now that we’ve mastered these skills it’s time to look at writing for magazines, and in particular, that most difficult of pieces, the column. Before we get into the mechanics of it let’s take a moment to think about research. One of the main mistakes that newbies make is that they spend an awful lot of time doing research. You don’t have to do any. At all. Seriously. You’d be surprised at just how easy it is to get people to believe shit that is completely unsubstantiated. In fact, people actively don’t want to read about facts as it just gets in the way of them being wrong. For example - The Paleo Diet – it makes you live much longer as is evidenced by all the cavemen still around and despite what actual research or logic might show up, nobody wants to know. So don’t waste your time.

You may have written some articles already, but you could be doing it wrong. Here is the timeline you absolutely have to follow if you want to write like a real writer and not just be pretentious. We’ll be using the bi-monthly magazine model.

1. Two months before deadline and immediately after you have written the previous article
No sooner will you have hit the send button on the email with your article for the previous edition than five amazing ideas will pop into your head – not just ideas, but pretty much complete articles. So complete are they that you could probably type all five of them into your computer in an hour. The idea that you should actually write them down will cross your mind, but you must never do this. That is not the way of Real Writers. You must instead convince yourself that you’ll be able to improve on these ideas greatly by mulling them over for the next few weeks before writing a single word. If you write even one word at this point I’m sorry, but it means you’re a bit of a dick. Them’s the rules.

2. Three weeks before deadline
At this point you will receive an email from your editor reminding you that it is three weeks to the deadline. You remember that you had five ideas that were essentially ready to go and at this point you may even have a vague recollection of what one of them was. You might think it would be prudent to write the article then and there before the memory of it fades completely, but the mantra of the Real Writer is – Fuck Prudence. Fuck it up its stupid ass.

3. Three days before deadline
You receive another email from your editor to remind you that the article is due in three days. You can’t remember what your idea for an article was, but it’s OK because you have a full three days to play with. You can resist the temptation to sit down and make a few notes and maybe even do a couple of drafts as you will be fully confident that one of the five absolutely brilliant ideas will come back at any moment. Nothing can go wrong.

4.  Deadline
Sit down at your computer and open a blank word document. Then, just to save a bit of time, open the internet. You should definitely have a quick look at Facebook at this point, just to get it out of the way and maybe, just to get the juices flowing, you should find someone who has posted something mental about how drinking three bottles of wine a day is good for you or something. The right thing to do here is to spend the next three or four hours looking up all the research you can find which disproves this and post it on their wall. You’ll be tired after that and will need a rest and there’s always something good on the telly on Deadline Day and it’s not going to watch itself. Anyway, it might give you a good idea for your article. Watch it. Watch the fuck out of it.

5. Two days after deadline
You receive a polite email from your editor inquiring as to the whereabouts of your piece. The Real Writer will say they're just doing a bit of editing and then gik their kaks as they realise they don’t have a fucking clue what they’re going to write about. Open a new word document and spend twenty minutes looking at the blank screen. Amuse yourself during this period by seeing if you can synchronise saying things like Holy-fucking-wankbasket-but-I-haven’t-got-a-fucking-notion-what-I’m-going-to-write-about with the flashing cursor. After this loses its charm you realise that it’s time to bring out the big writery guns: the custard creams. Eat the full packet at breakneck speed which will, obviously, make you lose consciousness, but in a good way. And when you open your eyes there it is! A complete article has magically appeared and you’re safe.
Send it off immediately and then have five brilliant ideas… See step 1.

And that’s it – there’s nothing mysterious about it at all.

Glad I could help.

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