Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writing on Assignment

Knowing of Ada Brownell's newspaper experience, on this organization day, I asked her: 

"Your job as a reporter taught you how to write on assignment. How has your experience in that area enabled you to  prepare assigned stories for books and deal with deadlines? Do you find it helps you write faster?" - Sandy

Ada: Every day, reporters sit down at the city editor’s desk and tell him what is happening on their beat and the expected stories. The editor also tells reporters about news he wants them to cover. Assignments are given sometimes, too, for the weekend edition.

After he talks to the staff, the editor makes up a budget to fill up the “news hole,” – the space around advertisements reserved for news. He expects the assigned stories well before deadline.

Writing on assignment for a Christian magazines and books is similar, but sometimes restricted. For instance, I wrote curriculum on assignment and had to follow a format where each part of the lesson had a certain amount of space and followed specific guidelines.

A free lance assignment is good for a free lance writing business, but can be challenging. For instance, an editor made an assumption about the spiritual needs of a certain city, and the expected news sources were offended at the assumption -- the story angle. I had to think up another angle.

Another time, when I interviewed a female pastor for a special edition, I discovered she was getting a divorce. She was chosen by the editor, who didn’t know about the divorce. I talked to him and he decided to run the story not mentioning the marriage breakup.

My biggest assignment challenge was given by an editor who traveled to another nation to cover a ministry. He had interview notes and a stack of information about the ministry and the country. I had to write the story from that and my own research. Putting everything together was difficult, but I did it.

Most assignments, the writer gathers his own information. Ask yourself, what do I need to know? Then make a list of things to do, information sources, and people to interview. Who are the experts on this subject? Who is involved or had experience? What facts do I need to double check? Who has a great quote on this subject or where can I find information or an illustration?

You need to double check facts. For instance, in ghost writing for a pastor his key illustration was the number of mountain peaks in Colorado over 14,000 feet. He had the wrong number.

Another time, a minister made a statement about the percentage of pastors who drop out of the ministry each year. He gave a source and the info wasn’t there. I contacted research organizations and they didn’t have the number, either. Finally, I contacted my own denomination and used the numbers they provided, since the pastor was a member.

Writing on assignment is serious business. You agree to gather the needed information and write the piece by a deadline. It’s great motivation to write fast.

Much of Christian writing today is by assignment. It's one of the best ways to sell your work. Look at listing in the Market Guide and send editors your resume, along with a few ideas.


A.B. Brownell has been writing for Christian publications since age 15 and spent much of her life as a daily The Pueblo Chieftain in Colo., where she spent the last seven years as a medical writer. After moving to Springfield, MO in her retirement, she continues to free lance for Christian publications and write non-fiction and fiction books.
newspaper reporter. She has a BS degree in Mass Communications and worked most of her career at
Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult or
Swallowed by LIFE:
Confessions of a Pentecostal:
  Twitter: @adellerella

Do you have a background that has helped you write faster? Do you write on assignment? Can you give additional pointers for meeting deadlines?