Sharpen your Skills: Write Articles and Short Stories

"If you want to write, write. Talent is simply not enough."
                                                                                 Jane Yolen

During my elementary teaching career, I recommended to parents of budding student authors as young as second grade, to encourage their children to write, even become editor, of their student newspaper. The idea came to me after reading up on Stephen King. King, as editor of his high school newspaper,  learned the basics about writing, which jump-started his career.

Some parents who knew of their young children’s propensity for the written word told me that they thought more in terms of fostering learning how to write much later, such as when it's time to prepare for college. Why wait? The Pathways to Reading and Writing program in the Loudoun County school district where I taught in Northern Virginia prepares students in the process of writing beginning in Kindergarten. In addition to the intensive reading segment of the program, students learn how to write independently.

Independent Writing:

Students engage in the writing process and produce pieces of writing in many genres, including narrative, informational, and opinion. They apply what they have learned during mini-lessons and strategy lessons. The teacher confers with each student on a regular basis to check in on his/her progress, offer feedback, and set new writing goals.                                                

Speaking from the experience of not knowing how to write when I first started some thirty years ago prior to teaching in Virginia, I didn’t let that stop me. My children were going to Catholic school at the time. I mentioned to a nun that I wanted to write but didn’t know how. She said you went to college, didn’t you? I said yes. She said, then you know how to write. But even if college isn’t in an author’s background, the desire to write can be. The desire to write that I felt in my heart and soul was stronger than my lack of knowledge. I decided to teach myself how to write, and I started with nonfiction—writing articles.

If you have a burning desire to write and want to find a place to begin, here is a road map you can follow:

  • First and foremost, know that nonfiction is easier to sell and publish than fiction. Editors receive fewer articles than stories and welcome nonfiction writers.
  • Get your hands on “how-to” books.
  • Make a list of subjects you know something about.
  • Think of publications you can write for. Start by reading several issues. Some examples:

        Church newsletter

        Free local publications found about town in grocery stores, book stores, gas stations, etc.

        Magazines: Research local and national magazines for submission guidelines on Google and at the library.

                Brochures: The sky’s the limit on companies that use brochures.

                Newsletters: Many local and national organizations publish newsletters. That’s one way I continue to keep my skills as sharp as possible. I’ve been writing a monthly post for Writers on the Move since 2013, and also became editor of two newsletters of organizations I belong to. For the first newsletter a few years ago, one of the members trained me and helped me learn Microsoft Publisher. The other newsletter is more current and has benefited from my experience.

                Online: Blogs are another way to break in. 

Lessons Learned

The two most important lessons I've learned seem simple, but realizing that this is what it takes took many years of experience. 

Desire: The writing bug bit me during a pause I took in my teaching career. That’s when I collected “how-to” books, made a list of subjects I thought I could write about, and published my first article in our local newspaper. Back in those days in the early ‘90s, newspapers paid correspondents for articles. My husband chipped in and took the photograph that went with the article. We've laughed about it ever since. He got paid more for his photo that took, say, a minute to take, and less than five minutes to upload, than I was paid for the article. You can guess how long it took me to interview the subject, transcribe my notes, and write the article. After getting my fill of writing articles, I went back to teaching. As soon as I left to retire, the bug bit me again, only harder this time. Now I see that the desire and need to write dwells deep inside and it won’t let go.

Persevere, Don’t Quit: Many editors lament about talented authors who give up too easily. Don’t let that be you. And when you land a good job, stick with it. One of the best jobs I had was being a stable writer for the library journal Biography Today. Assignments were of such personalities as Stephen King, Troy Aikman, and William Shatner, written with the help of a research assistant; unfortunately, not with interviews. My two children were still in Catholic school then. I was so thrilled with the writing job that I made the mistake of thinking I could take on more than one assignment while being a girl scout leader, volunteering at the children's school, etc. Trying to balance it all quickly became overwhelming. I missed a deadline and was asked to leave the journal. I have since realized that if I had taken on only one assignment at a time I’d probably still be writing for them.

Cutting my teeth on the many nonfiction articles I wrote laid the groundwork for the fiction I write today, first by publishing short stories, and now by writing and publishing books. However, the learning curve for writing fiction was steep. It’s taken many years to learn how to write fiction, and like all writers discover, there is always more to learn. 

  I suppose some authors can jump right in and become a success without going through a similar process as me. But for most, as Brian Cranston wrote in his memoir, A Life in Parts, we must “do the work.”

Introductory image: 

Linda's picture
book, illustrated by
Nancy Batra, is
 available on

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher, has published over 150 articles for children and adults, several short stories for children, and her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, which is available on Amazon. Publishing credits include biosketches for the library journal, Biography Today, which include Troy Aikman, Stephen King, and William Shatner; PocketsHopscotch; and an article for Highlights for ChildrenSecret in the Mist, the second in the Abi Wunder series, is coming soon. Tall Boots, Linda’s second picture book, will be published soon. Follow Linda on


Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great article. It's always interesting how authors got started. And such helpful advice on not biting off more than you can chew. And without perseverance you'll never know how far you can go. LOL I love how your husband earned more for one quick photo than you did for an interview!

lastpg said...

Ha yes, that was back in the day when newspapers had the money to pay stringer reporters, long gone now! Thank you for commenting.

Terry Whalin said...


You have great ideas and information in this article. While I've published a few short stories (fiction), the bulk of my writing has been nonfiction with a great deal of variety in the nonfiction area (children's books, biography, how-to, co-authored, self-help, etc). Sticking with it, meeting the deadlines with excellent writing is one of the keys.


lastpg said...

Thank you, Terry. I think as long as you're writing so much, you are not only staying sharp but keeping the juices flowing!

deborah lyn said...

Super ideas and tips Linda, to keep growing a writing practice, and sharing with readers effectively.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Sharpen skills, yes!!! But you know me! I think of it as being great for marketing (building a platform) first. Ha! #TheFrugalBookPromoter.

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Great article, Linda. Lots of helpful tips for anyone wanting to write for publication.

As a former school teacher myself, I don't think it's ever too early to encourage kids to start writing.

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