Writing for publication is both exciting and completely nerve-wracking for most writers I know, myself included. While you don't want to sacrifice the integrity of the piece for any one directive, there are definitely some aspects of writing you'll want to pay particular attention to before you hit SUBMIT.
Whether you want your audience simply to keep reading all the way to the end or to walk away with a monumental mindset shift, you'll need to address conflict, incorporate emotion, and provide meaning. The good news is that most of these aspects are inherent in any writing we do. You just have to ensure they have a clear presence in the final piece.
Writing something intended for publication is different from journaling or free-writing in that you know you are going to have an audience. In fact, that's the goal! To keep sight of this, you'll need to keep a relatively specific audience in mind.
Start by researching any publications you enjoy reading. What kind of essays do they publish? Is there a gap in their publication content that their audience might be interested in? If someone has already written an essay on the topic you're thinking of, that doesn't mean you can't also write an essay on that topic--only that you need to bring a fresh perspective to the topic (or find a different publication to query).
If you're not writing for a specific publication, at the very least, identify and research your potential audience; you can always find publications that cater to this audience after you've written the piece. Where does your audience shop? Where do they get their news? What kinds of things are missing in their life? (See step 2 for more on this!) What do they like to read, anyway?
The bones of the story will always belong to you and you can choose to tell as much or as little of it as you want; however, once you have your audience in mind, choosing what to talk about and what to leave out should become a little easier. Knowing your intended audience can also give you liberties to especially focus on one part of the story. For example, most new moms love to read about birth and babyhood; if that's your story, then that's your audience.
This isn't to say you should allow your intended audience to cripple your message or censor your story. If you've had outlandish experiences, there's somebody out there who will enjoy reading about them! You just have to find the right audience and a publication that supports your story getting told.
All good stories have conflict: love triangles, death or divorce, mental or physical illnesses, battles that seemingly can't be won... Think about the stories we love to read: from Little Women to Memoirs of a Geisha to Who Shot JFK? They all have meaningful, emotional conflict at their core.
As integral as conflict is to the story you're telling, we don't usually start there. Your beginning can (and should) lead us into the conflict--whether through foreshadowing or character dynamics--but save the "good stuff" until you've hooked your reader. Unless you're writing a newspaper article, you have some time to get into the meat of the story.
What if I can't think of a conflict? I don't think you're doing your story justice! Here's a hint: not all conflicts are MAJOR. Interesting conflicts come in all shapes and sizes. I've read wonderful essays about everything from a childhood boo boo to an empty tank of gas. Even small conflicts can have BIG consequences. Maybe the point of your essay is figuring out exactly where this conflict falls on the scale of "small" to big...
What if I can't choose just one conflict from a life full of conflict? Join the club! I feel your pain. While all good stories have conflict, not all conflict makes for a good story. Specifically, if you haven't yet processed or healed from a conflict fully, you may want to save writing about it (at least, with publication in mind) for later. Keep it in your private journal until the wounds have healed. Also, if you can't think of a larger implication to the resolution of this conflict (see universal meaning below), then maybe that isn't the story you need to tell.
Is there such a thing as too much conflict? Short answer: no. Gifted writers can certainly weave multiple conflicts in and out of an essay; for example, a childhood illness juxtaposed with a world war. My word of caution would be to keep your intended word count in mind. Can you write about everything you're writing about in 1500 words or less? If not, you might need to scale back on the amount of conflict.
To be continued in Part Two next week!
What questions do you have about getting published? Are there specific topics you have in mind but don't know where to submit them? I'd love to chat more about your questions, and I'm always willing to be a second set of eyes! Email me anytime at email@example.com
Happy Writing. :)
Lee Lee Thompson is the #ladyboss of The Perpetual You—a lifestyle brand for women living intentionally. An editor by trade, designer by heart, and mother by choice, she seeks intentional practices and a mindful mindset. Connect with her through Facebook, Instagram, or email. If ever you’re near Hamden, Connecticut, she welcomes you to stop by her front porch.Portrait of the author by Joanna Fisher.
A love of reading is often discovered at a young age and is a tremendous asset for anyone; readers have an entire world available to them that non-readers don’t benefit from. They can learn skills, entertain themselves, glean wisdom from history, and find inspiration for self-improvement using nothing but a (free!) public library. Yet sometimes, though children can read, they see it more as required work than a privilege and miss out on the joy that the habit can bring.