Archive for the 'Lori Russell' Category

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: To Submission and Beyond

By Lori RussellLori Russell
You’ve researched and interviewed, polished and proofed. Your profile article is finally ready to submit. Or is it?
 
Professionalism is in the details. Make sure yours measure up. Before you hit the send button, make sure that your manuscript and your email note to your editor reflect the professional writer that you are.
 
Start by rechecking the publication’s writer’s guidelines and any notes or emails from your editor. Is your document in the style and form requested? If you are sending photos, are you using the preferred method and file type? Have you spelled the editor’s name and publication correctly and used his/her correct title in your email? Do you need to submit additional information to get paid? In a brief email note to which I attach my manuscript, I always thank the editor for the opportunity to write for the publication and include a brief “contact me if there is anything else you need” line at the end.
 
No matter how well written and insightful your profile article is, your editor may contact you with additional questions or requested changes. Despite whether you agree or disagree with the request, take notes during the phone call. Reread the email. Then, follow your editor’s instructions as literally as possible. 
Do not change things that were not mentioned or spin out a completely new draft-unless the editor requests it. Even if you are already on to your next writing project, get the changes back to your editor as quickly as possible. 
 
Before you move on to your next query or assignment, be sure to thank the subject of your profile if you have not already. If you are able, let her know when the article is expected to appear in print.
 
Your subject has given you time and the opportunity to write about her. Do a good job and she will welcome the opportunity to speak with you again. Remember, your subject can act as an “expert” if you reslant your topic in the future as a how-to, list or feature article. An anecdote that she shared in the interview may not make it into the profile you are writing today, but it may make a great lede for a profile for another publication. 
 
Make sure to keep a printed copy of your submitted article (with any changes your editor requested) as well as an electronic backup copy. I keep all my notes, drafts, etc. together in a file on my computer, on a flash drive, and in a manila folder in my file cabinet so that I can refer to them for future articles and for tax purposes.
 
Once your article is published, put a copy in your article folder and in your “clips” file. If the publication has an online presence, ask how you can link to the site or request a PDF version of the article. Published clips are a great addition to your portfolio and an essential piece of your marketing toolkit when approaching new editors with a query.
 
Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

 

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Thinking Like an Editor

 
By Lori RussellLori Russell
Successful editors have a method or checklist that they use when reviewing a manuscript for publication. To save time and to avoid having your profile article bouncing back to you with several editorial suggestions, think like an editor as you revise and edit your drafts.  
 
First, begin revising by looking at the big picture: 

  • Does the first paragraph grab your attention and draw you into the body of the storry?
  • Is your lead followed by a “hook” that explains what the feature is about and why someone should keep reading?
  • Do the parts of the story flow logically? Remember, your goal is to communicate your story clearly to your reader.
  • Are your transitions smooth?
  • Does the information you’ve included belong in this article?
  • Have you left any questions unanswered?
  • Does the style of the article fit the style of the publication you are writing for? 

Once you’ve looked at the big picture, it’s time to focus on the details:

  • Does each paragraph hold together and move the reader along? Every paragraph needs to have a reason for being and for being a distinct unit.
  • Got rhythm? Powerful prose contains a rhythm that comes from a variation of long and short, simple and complex sentences within a paragraph. Read your draft out loud. Can you hear the rhythm?
  • Do your verbs pack a punch? Use the strongest, most concrete verbs you can. Occasionally, the passive voice cannot be replaced, but your writing will be stronger if you put the “somebody” in the sentence first by using a subject-active verb-object construction.
  • Present participles? Use them sparingly. “We were skiing down the mountain” becomes stronger as “We skied down the mountain.” 
  • Is your verb tense consistent throughout the article and with the style of the publication you are writing for?  
  • Throw out the overloaded adjectives, adverbs, redundancies and excess words. Eliminate clichés and mixed metaphors. Forget trying to sound fancy. Keep it simple and specific.
  • Finally, look at your grammar, punctuation and spelling. Invest in a couple of good reference books and refer to them when editing your article. A few of my favorites are The Essentials of English: A Practical Handbook of Grammar and Effective Writing Techniques by Vincent Hopper, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (also available online) and the New York Times or AP Stylebook

This month’s assignment: Imagine you are the editor at your targeted publication. Read through your article using the checklist above. How does your piece measure up? What changes can you make for a better fit? 
  

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.
 

 

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Piecing Together the First Draft Puzzle

By Lori Russell
Lori RussellWriting a feature article can feel like tackling a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Where do you begin? What goes where?
 
Every puzzle comes with a photograph of the final goal on the front of the box. While the final version of your article has yet to be revealed, you already know where you are headed.
 
You have already limited your topic in your query letter. You have focused your research and your interviews. You have written your first paragraph (lede) and an outline based on your query to your editor. In that outline, you also have begun to tackle the organization of your article and the transitions between paragraphs. Now, it is time to tell the story as clearly and simply as you can.
 
When I tackle a puzzle, I begin by putting like pieces together-those with the same pattern or color in one pile, the edge pieces in another. The same can be done when writing a first draft.
 
Paragraphs, made up of sentences with related information, are the building blocks of writing. When connected, they create your feature story.
 
Some writers write paragraphs by working through their outlines in order, others proceed more randomly. Do what fits your style and helps you dive into the story the quickest.
 
I prefer to begin with whichever paragraph is easiest for me to write. Depending upon the topic that may be the background information, a particular quote or even a rough ending to the article.
 
Wherever you begin in your outline, select a major point and express it in a sentence or two. Add any evidence or details that you picked up in your research or interviews. If you have a transition sentence, put it at the end of the paragraph. If you don’t, you can add one in a later draft. If you don’t use the quote or anecdote that you had planned, circle it on your outline. You may use it elsewhere in the piece-or not at all.
 
When you have expressed a major point from your outline in one or two paragraphs, move to the next.
 
Do not worry about style at this point. Don’t rush to the thesaurus to look up a word. Both of these distractions will break what writers reverently refer to as flow-that creative right-brained space where words and connections come nearly without effort. 
 
Keep it lean. Don’t assume you can carve 3,000 words down to 500 in the next draft. While you may be able to, it will cost you time. Feature articles take plenty of time to write as it is.
 
Choice is one of the most important tools of a writer. You choose what goes into your article and what does not. If you find your draft ballooning in size, review your query letter and your focused outline. Stick to what you promised to write and your puzzle will take shape.  
 
This month’s assignment: After reviewing your query letter, a copy of your publication, your notes and your outline, write a first draft of your feature article. 
  
  

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Mind If I Lede?

Lori Russell

By Lori Russell

Lede or lead, however you spell it, the opening paragraph of your profile draws the reader into your story and whets his or her curiosity to read further.

Having developed the profile idea and angle in your query, focused it through your research and interview, and outlined the article from start to finish, you already know what the story is about.

What aspect of the story almost tells itself?  Open with the best and truest material-the most dramatic information-and your story will take off and keep running until the last paragraph. Don’t pressure yourself to “grab” the reader. Just aim to tell your story from its heart.

Here are six examples of ledes from profile articles I’ve published to get your creative juices flowing.

1.  Anecdotes: A telling anecdote from your interview can encapsulate what the profile is all about. It introduces your subject, contains irony or drama, and makes the point you will cover in the rest of the article.

“Bright-eyed and sporting a yellow T-shirt, the young red-tailed hawk hops around its cage flapping its one good wing. It is one of the lucky ones.”

2.  Information: Start with statistics and facts that put an individual’s story in context.

“In 1948, women made up 2 percent of the US. military. Sixty years later, more than 182,000 women-11percent of the troops deployed-have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region. As this new group of veterans returns to civilian life, each has her own story to tell about how the military has changed for women and how each woman has been changed by service to her country.”

3. Description: A telling scene that you observed can set up what is to come.

“Just east of Thompson Park, Dan Richardson dons a pair of hip waders, stuffs a dish scrubber in his back pocket and steps into the cool water of lower Mill Creek. He is on the lookout for aquatic macro invertebrates-more commonly known as bugs-that live in the streambed.”

4. Quote: Use a great quote to introduce your subject.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Ken Karsmizki tells visitors to The Dalles Discovery Center. That advice comes from a man whose life changed the day he asked about a wooden stake driven into the Montana soil.”

5. Comparison: If the theme of your profile is two ideas, forces or trends in opposition, write it into your lede.

“When most people look at a handful of cherry pits and a couple of candle stubs, they see trash. Not Bryan Molesworth. Despite being born with a rare metabolic disorder that left him legally blind and confined to a wheelchair for much of his life, he saw an opportunity to craft a simple, yet useful, product-and to earn a buck or two.”

6. Delayed lede: Introduce the subject before her significance is revealed.

“Anna Monkiewicz’s dreams for her future took flight the day she heard that aviator Charles Lindberg had completed his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. At the age of 8, the daughter of a railroad man from Natick, Massachusetts, decided she, too, would one day fly above the clouds.”

Assignment: Write two or three different styles of ledes for your profile. Choose the one you like the best.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Find the Story with an Outline

By Lori Russell
Lori RussellLast month, we discussed how to interview your profile subject. After all your hard work, the best thing you can do to move your article along is to take some time off–even if it is only the rest of the afternoon. This part of the writing process involves more head time than minutes at the keyboard, yet it is equally valuable. While you enjoy a walk or prepare dinner, your subconscious is doing what it does best-spotting patterns and connections in your material.
 
After your well-deserved break, reread your query letter and any notes from your editor about the size and scope of your article. Knowing where you want to end up with your final story guides you in how to take your next step-outlining.
 
Did I hear a groan? While you may have had to follow your English teacher’s rules for outlining when you were in high school, you are now free to use whatever method works for you-formal or informal, computer software, index cards or a legal pad. However you do it, the goal of any outline is simply to help organize your information.
 
I begin by typing the notes from my interview into a computer file. With each new thought, I skip a line and begin a new paragraph.
 
After printing my notes, I fix myself a cup of tea and head to my recliner with my pages and a jar of colored markers. Most profiles include details about whom the subject is or what he or she has done that has led you to write the article. I mark any information that pertains to this in one color along with the category in the margin. Then, I mark each of the steps the person took to get to this point in a different color. I continue through my notes, color-coding different aspects of the material. I don’t get too hung up in analyzing; I am just grouping patterns.
 
Next, I return to the computer to cut and paste all the information with the same color together to form my rough outline. I work from broad to specific, breaking the information into smaller subgroups in each category.
 
Organizing your material with an outline forces you to see what’s important in the story and what can be left out. It reduces backtracking and rewriting. Think of your outline as a working draft that grows and changes as you add details, and research info and quotes.
 
After you have your basic outline, determine the logical progression of the story you are telling and put the information in order. This will help later when you are writing your drafts and creating transitions from paragraph to paragraph. The time you take to create an outline of your article can save you hours later when you sit down to write.
 
Assignment: Reread your query letter to remind yourself what article you have promised to write. Then pull out the colored markers, index cards or scissors and outline your profile story. 

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

The Scoop On Writing Profile Articles: The Interview

Lori RussellBy Lori Russell

You’ve queried, researched and prepared. Now it is time to interview the subject of your profile article.

Profile interviews are usually done in person or over the phone. When you set up the appointment, let your subject know the angle of your story and the approximate amount of time you will need.

Because you have prepared in advance, you already have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you need to get from your interview.

Your first question sets the tone for the entire conversation so begin by asking something easy. The point is to get the subject relaxed so he will talk rather than just answer questions. Small talk is not useless. You can use the time to take notes on surroundings, appearance and mannerisms.

Once you get the conversation going, be quiet and listen. This is not the time to talk about you. “Uh-huh” -the universal interviewer response-and its cousin the nod, keep the conversation going. For variation, restate or feed back what your subject has just said.

If your subject is skimming the surface of the topic, pursue the details. Go for breadth and depth by asking open-ended how and why questions. Be friendly but to the point if he veers off track.

I prefer to take notes during an interview rather than using a recording device. I am looking for the most vivid quotes, not every word my subject utters. Taking notes allows me to capture gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and the relationship of the speaker to the setting that I cannot get from a recording.

Taking notes also allows me to edit while listening. Will I use this quote? Is this information what I’m really after?  As I listen, I begin to shape and select my material even as I formulate my next question. What gaps need to be filled in with answers or anecdotes? What areas have already been covered?

Develop a system of note-taking shortcuts. I put a star next to good material and use brackets when noting my own observations about the surroundings or what the subject is saying.

With practice, you will be able to recognize an opening hook, an intriguing quote or a closing anecdote as soon as it is uttered. Often, the best revelations come at the end of your time with a subject, after the notebook is closed. Keep listening and write them down as soon as you can.

Nearly every interview requires a follow-up call or email to check facts or ask an additional question. In my experience, subjects appreciate when you take the time to get the story right. Make that call or send a quick email. And always remember to say thank you.

Assignment: Set up and conduct an interview with your profile subject. Afterward, reflect on what you did well and what you would like to improve on for the next interview.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Preparing for the Interview

Lori RussellBy Lori Russell

In March’s column, I discussed how to pitch an idea for a profile article to an appropriate publication with a query letter. Once the editor gives you the go ahead to write your profile article, what should you do next?

Before you schedule an interview with your subject, reread your query letter. It holds the key of how to research, interview and write your profile in a timely manner.

As writers, we are expected to be “instant experts” who know about a variety of topics and can explain them using original metaphors and flowing prose. To do that in a timely manner, you need a strategy so you don’t over or under research or write your article. Luckily, because of the work you did crafting your query letter (narrowing the focus of your topic, determining your angle, choosing your interview subject), you already have a great start.

When I wrote a profile on a couple who run a clinic teaching rural kids how to hunt wild turkeys, my angle focused on the efforts of 100 adult volunteers who teach children the basics of carrying on a hunting tradition in their community. Because I knew my angle and my audience’s familiarity (or lack there of) with the subject manner, I didn’t have to know how to a pattern a shotgun, delve into the specifics of turkey biology or be able to imitate the call of a hen to draw in a “tom.”

Familiarize yourself with the basics of your topic first and use the interview to get the color and quotes that come with talking with someone.

After you’ve found your information, copy all your notes into one notebook or computer file. Copying the information rather than simply cutting and pasting from websites forces you to think about which facts are useful. It also anchors those details in your mind-something that is helpful when you begin to write.

Here are some more dos and don’ts when preparing for the “Big Talk”:

  • Do familiarize yourself with your topic before the interview.
  • Do develop questions for your subject about the activity or status that led you to choose him/her for an interview and about the life that brought him/her to that activity or status.
  • Do use your questions to get and keep the conversation going if your subject is nervous, shy or withholding.
  • Don’t feel you have to stick to your list if all goes well and the interview flows naturally.
  • Do interview secondary sources. Consider friends, colleagues or adversaries of the subject. Look for experts on the Internet, through professional associations, trade organizations or the public relations department at a college or university. Contact writers or editors at technical, professional or trade publications in the field you are writing about.
  • Do use the phone or email when you are trying to collect background information or get a supporting quote or anecdote from a secondary source.

Assignment: Reread one of your query letters from last month and review what you promised to deliver to your editor. Research the basics of your topic and compile your notes in a notebook or computer file. Compose a list of questions for your interview subject.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.


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