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There's a How-to in You
by Jennifer Brown Banks

As a creative writing instructor, one of the most common complaints I get from scribes of all levels and backgrounds, is a lack of new ideas for generating marketable articles. And let’s face it—no matter how well you write, a bout of writer’s block can definitely block your cash flow.

An often overlooked avenue for creating material is the ever popular “how-to,” also known as the service piece. Contrary to opinion, one does not have to be a designated “expert” in a chosen field, nor have initials behind a name to qualify. And I should know; I’ve been producing how-to’s for years, on everything from matters of the heart, to time management, to decorating, to getting the most from money. Once I even earned a cool forty bucks for an article on how-to tips for getting along with in-laws!

Consider this. We live in the information age, and people’s need-to-know has created tremendous opportunity for today’s skilled writer. Like other businesses, it’s a simple law of supply and demand. Ehow.com, for instance, is a site totally dedicated to providing a wide range of instructional articles on everything under the sun for inquiring minds. They offer a writers’ compensation program that allows scribes to reap the rewards of their experience in the way of short tutorials.

Here are seven ways to cash in on this ever-growing market:

  1. Take inventory. What do you do better than the average Joe? Start with a hobby. Take into consideration the things that others often compliment you on too. Come on, don’t be modest here. Make a list. Here’s mine: time management, shopping and budgeting, business management, secrets of making a mean meat loaf, decorating on a dime, relationship wisdom.
  1. Don’t stop there. Take a look at your survival skills as other areas of potential expertise. Have you survived unemployment? Managed a mid-life crisis? Gone back to college as an adult? Defied the odds of divorce? Dealt with interracial dating? Cared for an elderly parent or sick child? Been victorious over a bad boss? Chances are, others want to know your insider’s tips, coping strategies, and the secrets to your success.
  1. Pare your list down to 2-3 viable topics worth exploring.
  1. Start writing. Then rewrite and flesh out ideas until you come up with something that fills a need and provides “take away” value for your readers. Think tips and tools.
  1. Make sure to break your ideas into logical, sequential order. Present your instructions as if you were telling a story.
  1. If possible use photos or illustrations as visual aids. As the expression goes “A picture is worth a thousand words.” One site to look into for an array of images is stockXchng.com.
  1. Provide additional resources or related links to reinforce your lessons.

By sharing what you know, you’ll greatly enhance the lives of others, and enhance your bottom line in the process. And you’ll also discover that everybody’s an expert at something!

© Copyright 2008, Jennifer Brown Banks

Jennifer Brown Banks is the former senior editor of Mahogany Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Business Management and blogs at Penandprosper.blogspot.com

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