But you’re just a little old blogger, right? Why would popular magazines like ForbesWebMD, and Redbook be interested in you?

You might be surprised.

Thousands of magazines appear on the newsstands and in readers’ mailboxes every month, and they’re constantly on the lookout for new writing talent. Yes, your audience as a blogger may still be small, but all those hours you spent slaving away on your content has probably honed your writing skills to where you could, in fact, compete with the big boys and girls to write for magazines.

And it’s SO worth it.

If you’ve been blogging for a while, let’s talk about why you should be interested in magazines:

1. Magazines can send you a lot of traffic.

Most magazines that pay well for freelance writing also command a huge readership.

For example, when I wrote for Woman’s Day, they had 6 million readers all across the United States. That’s a lot of eyeballs reading your work.

Of course, the size of the audience isn’t everything. Sometimes you’re looking for a smaller but more targeted audience. Magazines can help you there, too!

For example, if you want readers in a particular geographic area, you can write for local magazines that boast followings in that area. If you want readers from a particular industry, you can write for trade publications devoted to that field. If you want readers who buy a particular product or service, you could write for custom publications reaching those customers.

The important point:

Magazine readers are an entirely different audience than the people surfing the blogosphere. These readers are all people who might never find out about you outside of their favorite magazines.

Magazine Readers

Image Credits: Smartblogger

Even better, many publications, especially online ones, run a bio box at the end of your article where you can trumpet your credentials and lead people to your blog. Writer’s Digest gave me a bio box at the bottom of my column in every issue when I wrote their Conference Scene column, and it drew interested readers online to find out more about my books and classes for writers.

2. They can be lucrative gigs.

Some magazines don’t pay anything at all… but some pay big. (Hint: Those are the ones you want to write for.)

I’ve earned anywhere from $.10 per word writing for trade magazines at the beginning of my career up to $2.50 per word penning articles for national consumer magazines like Health. What’s important, though, isn’t the per-word rate — it’s your hourly rate, and I usually earn $250 per hour at this kind of work even at magazines that pay just $.50/word.

So, you’re not just connecting with new readers. You’re getting paid to connect with new readers.

Magazine Readers

Image Credits: Smartblogger

How cool is that?

3. They can help you land other well-paying gigs.

You can use published articles as clips, or samples, to show to potential clients in all writing areas. Copywriting clients, for example, like to know you understand the ins and outs of journalism and have the skills to weave a narrative and tell a good story. Just what they want you to do with their products!

Your article writing can also turn into speaking gigs. If a conference organizer likes one of your articles in their industry trade pub, they might ask you to turn your article into a speech, giving you not only more exposure, but a nice speaking fee too! One of my very first articles, in a national business magazine, led to a speaking opportunity at a Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania.

Plus, let’s not forget about credibility. If you’re on the hunt for a book deal, a business partner, or an affiliate, who do you think they’re going to want to work with: the person with no creds, or the one with a column in a major magazine? Yeah, it’s a no-brainer.

Magazine Readers

Image Credits: Smartblogger

Traffic, money, credibility – you’re sold, right? Now you’re itching to learn how to get started.

Luckily, as a blogger, you’re one step ahead of the game, because just as you can use magazine articles as clips to get blogging gigs, you can use blog posts as clips to land article assignments.

Who wants to buy my articles?

You already know about the big magazines that populate the newsstand, so let me share two super-secret markets out there for writers:

TRADE MAGAZINES: LITTLE BUT LUCRATIVE

Trade magazines are business-to-business publications created for members of a certain industry.

For example, I’ve written for Pizza Today, The Federal Credit Union, In-Plant Graphics, Sign Builders Illustrated, Restaurant Management, and Mini-Storage Messenger. These magazines tell readers how to best manage, market, and generally boost the success of their businesses.

There are gazillions of these magazines, covering every imaginable market niche. For example, my husband once wrote for Indian Gaming Business — and this magazine actually has a competitor. So whatever educational or professional background you have, you can probably parlay that into trade assignments.

The downside?

Don’t expect to get rich. At least, not right away.

Trade magazines typically pay less than consumer magazines — think 10 – 50 cents per word, though many pay higher — but on the “pro” side, they’re easier to write for than the big guys, they tend to pay quickly, and they become loyal clients that will come back to you again and again. Also, once you get the hang of writing for a particular industry, you’ll be able to complete assignments more quickly, meaning your hourly rate will increase.

Find trades in Writer’s Market and at WebWire. Webwire doesn’t include links to the magazines, but you can search for the sites of pubs you’re interested in on Google.

CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS: ALL THE BRANDS YOU TRUST

A custom publication is a magazine that serves as a marketing piece for a business to give to its customers or clients.

Many of these are published by companies called custom publishers (though many of them now call themselves content companies). That means the business distributing the magazine to its clients is not the actual publisher. The business pays the publisher to create the magazine for them.

So, that magazine you get at Sam’s Club? Custom published.

The one you get from your bank, supermarket, or insurance agency? Most likely also custom published.

And the even cooler part?

Custom published magazines tend to pay more than trades — in my experience, at least 50 cents to $1 per word. Yes, you do need some writing skill to freelance for them, but not really any more or less than you need for consumer and trade magazines.

If you’re good, you can also get steady work. As with trades, if custom pub editors like you they’ll add you to their “stable” of writers to hand out assignments to. Sweet!

Find custom publications at The Content Council. Click on “Members” and you can search by industry to see who publishes magazines (and other content) in sectors like health, retail, and financial services.

To break into most magazines, you need a query letter, also known as a pitch. It’s basically a sales letter telling the editor what your idea is, why it’s important to readers, and why you’re the best person to write it.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. A Fantastic Idea

Read over your target magazine to help you brainstorm ideas. If you can’t find physical copies of the magazine, check out their online archives. Sometimes the content differs, but you’ll get a good idea of what the magazine runs.

A word of warning:

Most of the ideas that first pop out of your head will suck. Even if you think they’re great, they’ll probably suck. (Sorry.)

How to write for magazines

Image Credits: Smartblogger

That’s because we tend to think in terms of topics, not story ideas. A topic is a broad idea that could really be a book, and has probably been done already, in some form, in both books and magazines. A story, on the other hand, has your own unique angle or slant that a jaded editor hopefully hasn’t seen before. For example:

Topic: How to stay healthy this summer. (See how that could be a book?)

Story: Summer bummers: The top 5 health snafus that can ruin your summer, and how to solve them.

Story: How to stay healthy this summer with items you already have in your pantry.

Story: Special precautions people with condition X need to take to stay healthy during the summer.

Get the idea?

Great. Let’s jump into the next most important part of a great query:

2. An Awesome Lede

A lede (yes, that’s spelled right) is the first paragraph or two of your query, and it’s typically written in the same style as the ledes you see in articles in your target magazine. So you might start with an anecdote, a compelling quote, a startling stat — or you may do something more literary in style.

Here are a couple of potential ledes for the “Summer Bummers” idea above.

1. The anecdotal lede
When McKenzie Smith, 32, went to the beach last summer, she envisioned lying around on the sand reading a romance novel while her kids played in the warm waves.What she didn’t envision was developing an itchy condition called sea bather’s eruption, which is caused by stings from tiny, larval jellyfish.

2. A stat lede

Beset by bug bites? Feeling sick from a summer picnic? You’re not alone. According to a new study by the National Institutes of Health, nearly one-third of Americans over the age of 18 have to miss work each summer due to seasonal snafus like these — and other recent research has found that 45% of us avoid going outside in the summer because we’re afraid of bee stings, poison ivy, and sunburn. [Note: I totally made those stats up.]

3. A Nut Graf

I know — what’s with all the funny spellings, right?

The nut graf is the paragraph right after the lede where you quickly summarize what you’ll be offering. For example, let’s take my stat lede above and add on a nut graf:

Beset by bug bites? Feeling sick from a summer picnic? You’re not alone. According to a new study by the National Institutes of Health, nearly one-third of Americans over the age of 18 have to miss work each summer due to seasonal snafus like these — and other recent research has found that 45% of us avoid going outside in the summer because we’re afraid of bee stings, poison ivy, and sunburn.

Summer doesn’t have to be that way. In my article “Summer Bummers,” I’ll interview top docs to give your readers solid, little-known advice on how to combat the top seven seasonal health woes: poison ivy, dehydration, food poisoning, sunburn, sea bather’s eruption, bug bites, and heat rash.

See?

It’s the point in your query letter where you pivot from the idea into your actual pitch. The transition should be smooth, the lede flowing right into the nut graf, just like the one above.

Next, we need…

4. A Bodacious Body

The body is where you get into the nuts and bolts of your pitch. You don’t want to make the editor guess at what you’re offering: Give her some examples, written in the style you’d write the article in.

And yes, that means you’ll have to do your homework. Probably more than you’re used to.

Most blogs are opinion-based: You write what you think, and nobody is looking over your shoulder, expecting you to back it up. Magazines, on the other hand, are evidence-based. Unless you’re an expert writing an opinion piece, editors will expect you to show supporting evidence.

Sometimes, that means conducting a couple of quickie pre-interviews. You can find potential sources to interview at universities, organizations, and think tanks, and on LinkedIn, online forums, Twitter, Facebook, and source-finding sites like ProfNet. And don’t discount the value of your email list!

So here’s the body of the query I started above.

For example, I’ll offer doctor-approved advice such as:

* Food Poisoning

If you downed questionable shrimp salad at the office picnic, you may find yourself faced with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. “One thing you shouldn’t do is take an anti-diarrheal medicine, because the diarrhea carries the toxins that are making you sick out of your system,” says Daniel Jones, MD, an associate professor at Harvard School of Medicine. Instead, sip a sports drink, which helps replace the electrolytes you’re losing. Until you feel better, avoid solid food and drink your usual liquids plus a quart of sports drink per day.

* Dehydration

The bad thing about dehydration isn’t that your mouth is parched and you crave Frappuccinos– it’s that dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, which can in turn lead to heat stroke. The worst-case heat stroke scenario is that your blood pressure drops dangerously, resulting in organ damage.

Here’s advice from Liz Johnson, MD, a physician at The Wellness Institute in Boston: If you notice decreased sweating, lightheadedness, or dizziness, get to a cool place and rehydrate with a sports drink. Anticipate and head off the problem by deep-sixing the caffeine, which can make you sweat more and therefore lose more water, and drinking more than usual if you plan to be out in the heat or if you take a diuretic such as blood pressure medication.

Don’t skimp on your research! This is where you prove to a skittish editor that you do indeed have the goods.

Then and only then can you…

5. Brag on Yourself

My writer friend Kelly James-Enger calls this the “why I’m so great” paragraph. This is where you tell the editor why you are the best person to write the proposed article. So if I were 100% a blogger and had never written for magazines, I might write:

I’m a freelance writer in Sacramento who writes on health topics on my own blog, TheBestBlogEver.com; I’ve also written for blogs like X, Y, and Z. As a former nurse, I understand medical concepts and terminology — and as I writer, I know how to translate them into readable, fun prose.

Even if you don’t have a lot of writing credits to toot your horn about, there are other brag-worthy things you can use — like a deep personal knowledge of the topic (your spouse is a doc? mention that here!), an educational background in the topic, or exclusive access to a key source.

You’re a writer, so spin what you do have into the best possible light!

6. A Closing

In the closing of the pitch, I usually do two things:

#1: Show I understand the magazine’s readership.

Explain why your article will be important to the magazine’s readers. For example:

Your readers are young women who want to relax and enjoy the sun all summer long — without being waylaid by pesky summer health troubles. My article “Summer Bummers” won’t disappoint them.

#2: Ask for the sale.

One mistake many writers make is they forget to wrap up in a clear way by asking for an assignment. They let the pitch simply peter out, and leave the editor wondering why the writer bothered.

You can ask for the sale in a lot of ways: “I look forward to hearing what you think about my idea for Magazine X!” “I look forward to your reaction.” “Does this idea sound interesting to you?” “May I write this article for you?”

And that’s it! You’re finished!

What’s Next?

Send your query letter via email directly to whichever editor you think would handle your topic.

At big magazines, that is often a senior, deputy, or associate editor. At smaller magazines, like many trades, you can pitch directly to the editor.

Can’t decide? Give them a call and ask.

To find the editor’s email address, first search the website, and try Google searches on the editor’s name and “contact.” You can also search for the editor on LinkedIn; sometimes you’ll find an e-mail address right on the editor’s profile.

If those tactics come up short, try calling the magazine. Don’t be afraid! I promise no one will yell at you.

As a last resort, try to decipher the magazine’s email format (it’s often on the Ad Sales page) and use that to figure out your editor’s address. You can take advantage of one of the many free online email verification systems like Verify-Email.org to determine if the address you guessed at is correct. This isn’t foolproof, but it helps.

Once you zap off your query, don’t just wait with bated breath for a reply, because it can take a loooong time. Send your pitch to other magazines as well (you may need to tweak your pitch a bit for each one), and get to work on your next query. Pitching a numbers game, and it’s all about volume.

Keep pitching…

Once you learn to write a query, you’ll get better and better at it, and the process will take less and less time. You’ll start to develop relationships with editors — yes, even a nice rejection asking you to pitch again can be the start of a beautiful (and lucrative) friendship. And some of those relationships will lead to regular gigs.

But you have to keep pitching.

Too many talented writers fire off a query or two and then quit. Maybe the rejection is too painful, or maybe you’re just too busy.

Regardless, the writers who make it are the ones who send a lot of pitches. Preferably at least one or two a week — with each of those going out to multiple publications — at least for the first few years.

Magazine Readers

Image Credits: Smartblogger

Here’s why:

You have to do the work to write for magazines

Writing for magazines is the same as anything else. You have to do the work.

At first, you suck. Then it gets a little easier. Then one day you look at your work and realize you actually know what you’re doing! Heck, when I started out as a full-time freelancer in 1997, I would print out each pitch, go over it with a red pen, have my writer husband go over it with a red pen, enter in the edits, and repeat the process until the pitch was as clean and perfect as possible. These days, I can write a full pitch in under an hour.

You just have to keep going. You have to keep writing. You have to trust it’ll all pay off

It’s certainly paid off for me, and I believe it can pay off for you too. Not only through money, although that’s certainly nice, but through connecting with people who need your wisdom.

The world is full of people with questions who aren’t searching blogs for answers. To help them, you have to reach outside of your medium and connect with them where they already are.

You have the skills. You have the passion. You now have the step-by-step plan to make it happen.

So get out there and start writing!

There’s a whole other world waiting for you, and if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll do just fine.


This article by Linda Formichelli was originally published on Smartblogger.com

About the Author:

Linda Formichelli has been a full-time freelance writer since 1997. Today, she’s the founder and creative director at Hero’s Journey Content, LLC.


Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

This is one of the longer articles. If you’re feeling noncommittal at the moment, don’t read it. Save it. Bookmark this page for later, when you have more time.

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You’ll be glad you did, especially if your goal is to write articles of your own. Articles that lure readers in slowly, carefully, inching them down the page, sentence by sentence, until the words run out. Articles people can’t stop reading.

Joe Sugarman wrote articles like this. In fact, he was behind some of the most addictive and profitable articles ever created. Except he called them “print ads.”

Meet Joe.

In 1986, Joe Sugarman, a direct response copywriter, wrote a print ad for BluBlocker Sunglasses. The ad helped an iconic brand take root. It also made him rich:

 

How to write addictive articles

He distributed his ad the old-fashioned way, in the mail, asking readers to call in with their credit cards. The response was enormous. The glasses sold out in a day. And he did this again and again with an assortment of products: calculators and speakers, smoke detectors and thermostats, even jets and mansions.

His success stemmed from his ability to keep people reading.

Sugarman knew that prospects who finished an ad were far more likely to buy the product than those who only read the beginning. So he used every engagement tactic he knew to keep people glued to the page, addicted.

How to Write Addictive Articles

Towards the end of his career, Sugarman started divulging his copywriting secrets in expensive seminars. To communicate his vast knowledge, he organized it into axioms.

Some of his axioms are philosophical truths, intended to help business owners arrive at a unique selling angle:

  • “Never sell a product or service. Always sell a concept.”
  • “Selling a cure is a lot easier than selling a preventative.”
  • “When trying to solve problems, don’t assume constraints that aren’t really there.”

Others are more practical tips, intended to help copywriters keep readers engaged throughout the entire ad. I’ve transcribed these engagement tips below, along with some context that’ll help you apply Sugarman’s proven wisdom to your next article.

1) “The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence.”

The Law of Inertia also applies to copy. Conventional wisdom says that the more time you spend reading something, anything, the more likely you are to finish it. An engaged reader is like a train, hard to stop.

But trains are also slow to start, meaning the copy has to create a big upfront push.

Your first sentence is your article’s most important. If it fails to engage the reader, then you’ve lost everything that matters.

TAKEAWAY: Addictive articles open with a compelling sentence.

How to Craft Your First Sentence

Your article’s first sentence doesn’t need to have anything to do with the topic. It only needs to capture attention, like a gunshot. To do so, make your opening sentence:

  • Brief: “If you look at many of my ads, you’ll notice that all of my first sentences are so short they almost aren’t sentences,” writes Sugarman. “No long multisyllabic words, either. Keep it short, sweet and almost incomplete so that the reader has to read the next sentence.
  • Spoken: Dialogue implies present action, which is compelling.
  • Coy, obscure, or unsettling: If your first line draws a question, incites curiosity, or creeps out the reader, there’s a good chance he or she will move on to the next line.

2) “Every communication should be a personal one, from the writer to the recipient, regardless of the medium used.”

Why should something written for the masses read like a personal message? Because people crave connection. It’s a basic human need, even in writing. Readers want to feel like they know the person behind the words.

Personal copy tears down barriers, giving an individual reader the impression that the article was written solely for her consumption, her benefit, which is engaging on its face.

TAKEAWAY: Addictive articles sound conversational, like an email from a friend.

How to Write Conversationally

Here’s some practical advice:

  • Use active voice because it’s easy to read.
  • Use white space because it commands the reader’s attention.
  • Use contractions because they make copy sound informal, light.
  • Use simple words because nobody is impressed by your vocabulary.
  • Use second person because you want to make the reader feel included.

Also, when writing an article, don’t visualize your audience as a nondescript crowd of people. Instead, when you write, imagine a single person in that crowd, your Ideal Reader. Give her a name, an age, and an occupation. Give her eyes, a nose, and hair. Maybe she looks like someone you know and care about? Imagine her face as she reads your work.

Now write to her. She is the crowd.

As the saying goes, Never write for anyone, always write for someone.

3) “Get the reader to say yes and harmonize with your accurate and truthful statements while reading your copy.”

As a teenager, I sold magazine subscriptions door-to-door. At first it was hard and I was unsuccessful. Then I picked up a trick. I started getting the prospect to agree with me:

“Good afternoon,” I said. “I’m Eddie. Nice day out, huh?”

“It is,” said the prospect. “How can I help you?”

“Of course,” I said. “Let me ask, do you read magazines?”

“Yes.”

“Have one in the house?”

“Sure, I do.”

“Did you, by chance, buy it off the shelf, individually?”

“I did, actually,” said the prospect.

“I bet it cost about six bucks, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I can sell you TWELVE issues of the same magazine for less than twenty bucks,” I said. “If you sign right now, I’ll throw in a free tote bag so you can bring all your magazines to the beach.” Then I’d smile.

Sure, lots of people still declined: “No thanks, kid.”

But lots of people also smiled back and took my pen: “Hell, why not? If I don’t I’ll end up spending full price on the next issue!”

This technique is called harmonizing. It warms the prospect up, getting him or her in the mood to buy. It’s a manufactured feeling — and it works as well on the page as it does in person. In other words, harmonizing with your readers will warm them up, getting them in the mood to read.

TAKEAWAY: Addictive articles keep readers nodding.

How to Keep Readers Harmonized with Your Message

People nod at statements they perceive to be:

  • True: something accurate, like a fact.
  • Interesting: something captivating, like a story.
  • Informative: something valuable, like instructions.

That said, the better you understand your Ideal Reader, the easier it is to harmonize her with honest, interesting, or informative copy. So do your research. Know your audience like you know yourself.

4) “Keep the copy interesting and the reader interested through the power of curiosity.”

Most copy goes through ebbs and flows of engagement. Some parts you can’t read fast enough while others slow you down to a crawl. This is normal. Even so, it’s why so many people abandon what they’re reading. The thrill dissipates and they get bored.

Boredom kills copy. But that’s OK because there’s an antidote: curiosity. The trick is knowing how to plant it …

TAKEAWAY: Addictive articles use ‘seeds of curiosity.’

How to Plant These Seeds

“One way to increase readership is by applying a theory I call ‘seeds of curiosity,’” writes Sugarman. “It goes like this. At the end of a paragraph, I will often put a very short sentence that offers some reason for the reader to read the next paragraph.”

For example:

  • “So read on …”
  • “Let me explain …”
  • “But there’s more …”
  • “But I didn’t stop there …”
  • “Now here comes the good part …”

These phrases nudge the reader forward, subconsciously, through the sludge. It’s a neat trick, but nothing drives engagement like this next concept …

5) “The ideas presented in your copy should flow in a logical fashion, anticipating your prospect’s questions and answering them as if the questions were asked face-to-face.”

While direct response copywriters can sell many people at once, they can’t always be there to answer questions. When you’re face-to-face or on the phone, you can field questions as they come up. That’s an advantage salespeople have over copywriters.

“Since we copywriters do not have the benefit of having the prospect in front of us to ask the questions,” writes Sugarman, “we must craft our ads in such a manner that they literally lead our prospects to ask the question we want to answer.”

TAKEAWAY: Addictive articles stay a step ahead of the audience.

How to Anticipate What Your Readers are Thinking

This process breaks down into two steps:

  1. Write your article’s headline.
  2. Based on the headline, anticipate and answer your Ideal Reader’s questions.

Let’s use this article as an example:

  1. Headline: How to Write Addictive Articles
  2. Q1: “Sounds up my alley, but do I really want to read this whole thing?”
    A1: “Maybe not this minute, but you should at some point.”Q2: “Why?”
    A2: “Because it’ll teach you how to write articles like Joe Sugarman.”Q3: “Joe who?”
    A3: “He’s one of the best direct response copywriters ever.”Q4: “Oh yeh? What makes him so good?”
    A4: “Well, he’s got these axioms …”

Sound familiar? This process will help you develop your article’s outline, too.

6) “In the editing process, you refine your copy to express exactly what you want to express with the fewest words.”

I spent a long time editing this piece. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how much time I invested in its post-production. But I did, in part because I like the work. I like tinkering with the words, cutting and shifting them, experimenting until the language clicks. I get lost in it, but I digress.

The real value of editing is evident in the final product: a clear, concise, and hopefully, addictive article for the reader.

“This axiom holds one of the most valuable secrets to effective and persuasive copy,” writes Sugarman, “for it is in the editing process that you turn that raw emotional outpouring of thoughts and ideas into a polished, harmonious, resonant tuning fork that will vibrate perfectly with your prospect.”

TAKEAWAY: Addictive articles are concise.

How to Trim the Fat

Here’s a quick blurb about the benefits of shorter copy:

The truth is that in copywriting, less is more. Why? Think of it this way: copy with fewer words will get read more because the length is less intimidating to readers. It also enables readers to finish the copy much faster.

Now here’s that same message, trimmed up:

In copywriting, less is more. Not only is shorter copy less intimidating, but readers will finish it faster, too.

Same message, half the words. Here’s how I did it:

  • By combining sentences: you can save a few words this way.
  • By removing needless words: you can omit most of the adverbs.
  • By seeking out “that” instances: you can often omit everything up to and including the word “that” in the beginning of a sentence.

Now imagine if you halved the word count of an entire article: same message, delivered twice as fast. Now that’s valuable to both the reader and the author.

Here’s the Bottom Line

“Your reader should be so compelled to read your copy,” writes Sugarman, “that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slide.”

If you read this article, you already know how to achieve this.

Now it’s a matter of practice, effort. Start soon.


This article by Eddie Shleyner was previously published on Hubspot.com

About the Author:

Eddie Shleyner is a direct response copywriter, content marketer, and the founder of VeryGoodCopy.com.


Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

This article by Hannah Frankman was previously published on Medium.com

I am going to begin this article by posing an argument: reading fiction is important.

Everyone can agree that reading is an important component in developing a successful life. Consuming content sharpens your intellect and builds your knowledge set. It seems almost universal that the more successful you are, the more you read.

But this focus on reading is one-dimensional. People get caught up in nonfiction — self-help books, business books, books on sales and health and psychology and relationships. These are all valid books to spend your time reading — they’re filled with information that can help better you in your career and your life — but it’s a mistake to leave fiction in the dust.

It is a forgotten gem, an untapped well of knowledge and information. A person developing and aiming for success should steep themselves in fiction, and read it copiously.

I’ve made my argument. Now to answer the question that follows all such bold claims: why?

Fiction helps you understand other people’s perspectives

Fiction has a power that no other form of communication does: the power to insert you fully and completely in someone else’s mind. It is a meld between the mind of the reader and the writer, and the minds of reader and character.

When you read fiction, you’re seeing the world through a character’s eyes.

Watching a character interact with the world around them is powerful. When studying history, a history book gives you a series of dry facts and anecdotes, but historical fiction sets you down in the middle of the time period, allows you to touch and taste the world around you, interact with contemporaries, solve problems. You understand the period contextually as you never could from the removed perspective of a history book.

Good fiction runs deep into the realms of psychology and philosophy. It explores and uncovers paradigm. It allows you to understand perspectives you’ve never seen before, both psychological and physical.

When you read fiction, you can be someone you’d never otherwise have the chance to become — another gender, another age, someone of another nationality or another circumstance. You can be an explorer, a scientist, an artist, a young and single mother or an orphaned cabin boy or a soldier.

When you take off the guise again — set down the book — you walk away changed. You understood things you didn’t understand before, and that shapes your worldview.

Fiction deepens your understanding of evolution

Everything evolves — individuals evolve. Paradigms evolve. Cultures evolve. Technology evolves. To study history is to study the evolution of civilization.

All stories have narrative arcs — a beginning, a middle, and an end. This arc marks an evolution — be it of a character or a series of events. Something comes out changed.

This phenomenon of evolution is important on multiple levels. On a conceptual scale, watching evolution occur in fiction is valuable, because fiction deals in expedited timelines. You can see things from a zoomed-out perspective and see things you wouldn’t observe in normal day-to-day life. Watching the evolution unfold helps you begin to understand the process.

On the level of an individual, watching characters evolve helps us understand individual human evolution — both that of those around us, and our own.

On a broader level, fiction allows us to see the evolution of events, narratives, trajectories — even societies.

When we look at the world, we see it in pieces, and it’s hard to understand how those pieces fit together. On a linear timeline, how did we get from point A to point B? Fiction gives us context.

The importance of reading fiction

Image Credits: Pixabay

Fiction allows you to see the big picture

Point A to point B applies not only linearly, but in our day-to-day lives. All things in our world fit together, and fiction allows us to see how.

Fiction gives us the rare opportunity to look at the world from a removed perspective.

Fiction, in its narration, condenses. It pulls out the things that are important and highlights them, juxtaposes them against each other, elaborates on them, paints them clearly as we don’t usually see them. An evolution that can take years — the building of a relationship, the unfolding of a war, the deterioration of a strong young man into a weak old one — can be observed in hours.

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck highlighted truths about the Great Depression that those in the middle of its dust couldn’t clearly see. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald draws a picture of a man with an overdeveloped persona in a way that one cannot see interacting with him at the surface, but can only discern from a distance.

It makes the world clearer to see all of it at once — like flying high above the trees to see the forest, or looking at the world via a map — instead of on the ground where you can’t tell if there’s a street running parallel to the one you’re on.

Fiction allows you to look at the world in an entirely different light

When you read fiction, you’re looking at the world through someone else’s eyes. It could be argued that this is true of all writing — or even all forms of communication — and this argument would be true, but fiction does something unique that all other forms cannot. It takes us inside — inside the mind and the perspective of the character. You’re seeing a world defined on their terms: their metaphors used to describe their surroundings, their context for events, their perspective on happenings and relationships.

Looking at the world in different lights is one of the most vital things one can do in the pursuit of growth. Our perspectives are limited, but they’re constantly evolving. When we look at the world through someone else’s perspective, we try on the elements of their paradigm — and when we find something we like, we adopt it and make it our own. In doing so, our own paradigm grows.

Fiction makes our lives rich

Fiction deals with the things that make us fundamentally human. Conflict, passion, love, lust, fear, hatred, jealousy, exaltation. The things we crave, the things that move us most.

Fiction makes us feel, and that feeling makes us richer.

On a very basic level, it makes our lives better to fill ourselves with fiction.

Fiction helps us understand

The definition of fiction is something made up, but fiction ultimately deals in truth. Remember that Hemingway quote I opened with? There’s another, equally as compelling as the first:

“All good books have one thing in common — they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you’ve read one of them you will feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people, and the weather.” — Ernest Hemingway

I confess that I’m biased. I am a literature person — I see the world with a literary mind. When I read fiction after a spell of abstinence, it’s like taking a long drink of cold water on a hot day when your mouth is dry.

Acknowledgement: not all fiction is valuable. Poor writing, shallow plots, and petty drama have little value — at least, little that I’ve found. But not all nonfiction books are valuable either. Shoddy “dime store romances” aside, fiction has endless potential to bring value to your life.

Next time you see someone reading fiction, don’t turn up your nose and sniff under your breath. Go read some yourself.


This article by Hannah Frankman was previously published on Medium.com

About the Author:

Hannah Frankman is a writer, videographer, photographer, educator, and creative. You can find more of her work at hannahfrankman.com, and find snapshots of her story at instagram.com/hannahfrankman.


Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

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