Writing tips from A Guardian Masterclass

This week I was privileged to venture inside The Guardian offices, courtesy of attending the Guardian Masterclass on ‘What sub editors wish you knew.’

The modern glass fronted building  had a reception line-up that reminded this country hick of the set from Ugly Betty. The women behind the desk were groomed, sleek and responsive with their smiles. A huge flat-screen monitor relayed the news on the wall. 
I was invited to ‘sit’ and wait  in a lip shaped chair. I fell into it and had some difficulty escaping its open mouth when being ushered away to deposit my coat. The pigs, to my left watched over me as I hung my coat up. Bless them, they’re about the same size as me and have real bristles on their faces.  I stroked a synthetic trotter and regretted it as it was squeaky to the touch. Presumably these pigs began life on Spitting Image. I wish someone would bring that programme back. It so suits the Conservative age.

 As we walked upstairs we passed portraits on the wall, like these of Jagger and Sinead O Connor, taken by the famous Guardian photographer, Jane Brown.

The talk by Chief Sub editor of Time Out, Chris Waywell and the Guardian’s James Callow, was designed to teach freelancers how to avoid obvious mistakes when submitting work. I’m not a freelance writer (yet), but I do work in PR, so it was great to hear from a national publication tips for writers submitting work.

I was interested to hear that bloggers sometimes get invited to submit articles. The thing to remember is that it’s a professional relationship and you’re on trial. The key to being asked again to submit an article is to be professional in your writing and dealings with the paper.

Rule number one is to understand the publication you’re writing for and to understand the audience of the paper or magazine. Getting the tone right is important.  Phone up and get a style guide if you want to impress them. This also applies to writers submitting work to magazines or agents. Don’t send your work to a publication or agent who is not likely to be interested in your genre or subject matter. Research is the key.

Break out space at The Guardian HQ

 Never submit late to a publication. You don’t want to be unpopular with the sub editors do you? And you want to write for them again, presumably. If your submission is late that will impact on the chain of people and events at the other end.

Word limits: aim to keep to the brief. Submitting under the word limit creates problems as they have to fill the missing space with additional copy, creating extra work. If you submit over the word limit then that can be acceptable as they can cut, but a rule of thumb is to only submit up to 10 % over the agreed word count.

Name check, fact check, spell check and carefully proof-read before submitting copy. Let them know of any potential legal issues with your piece. Be concise in your writing and before you click on the send button, check, check and check again. If they change your work, pay attention, analyse those changes and ask yourself why so you can learn from it.

A tip for bloggers – it’s easy to self-publish these days, but once your work and words are out there they will be judged, so go through a period of reflection and checking before you post a blog. Make the writing on your blog your best work.

I’d highly recommend this Guardian masterclass. The speakers were knowledgeable, friendly and cared deeply about good writing.  Chris surprised me by suggesting a technique I’m familiar with for creative writing – when you wake up in the morning write three pages of A4. Doesn’t matter what it is, just write, then when you start work your first words won’t be the first of the day. He also recommended The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Up until a month ago I’d never heard of this book, but this is the third endorsement I’ve had for it. I shall investigate.

For more information visit Guardian Masterclasses  or connect on twitter @guardianclasses

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