How Writing for Magazines and Newspapers Helps You

It might sound silly to think about, particularly in the era of web publishing, where space is unlimited and the freedom to do whatever you want is seemingly endless, but writing for magazines and newspapers certainly has its benefits.

For one, consider the fact that in a magazine— we’ll just stick with magazines for now— there is limited space. When you write for a magazine, you’re not so much covering a subject, but also learning how to cram as much information as you can into a space on a printed page that is probably very small.

Consequently, as a writer, you learn to sit with your piece, really looking over it, combing through the text for the essential parts, removing non-essential parts, and then figuring out how to package that into something workable.

Once you’re done with that, you have to make it enjoyable to read, too. So, you wind up spending a lot of time on each sentence, because every sentence has to count, and every word has to maximize meaning. Efficiency is key. If you can replace three words with one, do that. Over time, your vocabulary will build.

Printing pages costs money, so odds are you’ll be dealing with an editor, or multiple editors, and maybe other creative departments too. Editors are people, and as such, they have personalities and feelings and thoughts, and they will have lots of feelings and thoughts about your writing, which they’ll reveal.

The great thing about working with editors is that they are people, and not just faceless content management systems you plug words into and click publish on. They’re a second pair of eyes, thinking of things you’re not thinking about, catching errors that you might not, and they come with their own unique quirks and sensibilities.

Editors can be very difficult. Writers can be very sensitive. It’s an odd match. So, learning to work well with editors can teach you a lot about how to work with people and within a system, period. That experience can be applied in a lot of different real-life situations, not necessarily ones that pertain to writing a story.

There is also the magazine’s house style to consider. When you write for a magazine, before you become a well-known celebrity journalist with the freedom to do whatever you want, you’re essentially at the mercy of the outlet. Some magazines favor certain sentence structure, word choices, phrasings — not to mention overall structural concerns for your article itself— that will influence how your piece reads.

This is an important thing to consider because writers nowadays, particularly ones who graduate from writing on the web, where it’s all about them and their opinion and what they have to say, have to learn to shutter the little voice inside of themselves for the greater good. Writing for a magazine is not about you. It’s about them. It’s essentially a service business. So, unless you’re being asked specifically to write something where you inject your voice into it, you need to learn how to master writing in someone else’s.

The value in doing that is immense, as it makes you into a much better, more serviceable writer. It’s almost like being a classically-trained musician, in a sense. When you learn how to play classical music, you typically do so by carefully replaying other people’s compositions, with very little personal inflection added. That’s not to say you’ll never add it, but by and large, it’s about fitting into the larger puzzle, the orchestra, not standing out as a soloist.

One could argue that everything written here is irrelevant— hey, this is the internet, nobody cares about magazines and newspapers anymore!— and to some extent or another, that might be true. But if you take a lot of this advice and rejigger it a little bit to fit the web model, you’ll see that it also works online as well.

As great storytelling finally migrates fully to the web, with a lot of the old-school print standards coming with and/or being updated and expanded upon, considering some of these things will help you become a better writer. It will help you stand out in a media climate that is far more competitive than it has ever been.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.