Getting into writing can be quite daunting for people, but it is easier than ever before to be a writer. The internet has placed virtually all the information of consequence known to anyone at our fingertips. So it is vitally important for all those libertarian writers who feel so inclined, to be active.
With this article I hope to get some hesitant aspiring libertarian writers, or writers who have already started but are still unsure about some things, to put pen to paper.
This is simply a collection of those things which have helped me throughout my writing career and which I have told people when they asked me for advice. I am not a journalist or a literary scholar, so everything you will read here comes from my personal experience in writing. I have also had the privilege of being the editor in chief of two publications: The Rational Standard, South Africa’s only libertarian publication, and, of course, Being Libertarian. But don’t see these tips as the only set of valid tips, as many different things work for many different people.
This list is also not comprehensive. These tips are merely some of my thoughts, and if pressed, I might be able to share many others.
1. Don’t overthink it
This is the most important tip I hope aspiring libertarian writers take to heart.
While research and fact-checking are by default important for any type of writer, overthinking your endeavor can at best lead to significant delay, and at worst to abandonment. If you are unable to verify something – don’t worry, writing op-eds is not academic writing. Tell your readers that you were unable to verify it, but explain why you believe it to be true regardless. Make an argument; don’t get hung up on the numbers, especially if you are writing from the perspective of Austrian economics. Don’t, however, be dishonest or try to hide the fact that you couldn’t find empirical evidence from your readers.
Also try to set limits on the scope of your article. I will address brevity below, but here it is important that you not consider your article to be ‘the final word’ on a given topic. You do not need to explain everything you say at length. Assume your readers have a hunger to do some reading on the topic elsewhere!
The most important thing you should do, however, is to just start writing. Put your ideas on paper, and see what happens.
2. Start with your conclusion
Remember, you are not writing an academic paper where you are investigating something. You already have a message you want to get across.
Start your article by writing down your core thought – usually your conclusion – and build it around that. For example, if you think minimum wage laws would hurt unskilled workers, start your article by writing exactly that. Your lead-up and introduction will come later, but you need to ensure the core message you want to convey appears in the text of the article in a similar way it came to your mind; usually brief and in understandable language.
3. Summarize your conclusion in your opening lines
We are ordinarily taught that conclusions need to be at the end of the text, but when writing articles, it’s important to get your message across in the very first paragraph, to ensure even those people who don’t read the entire text have at least seen the most important information. This is known as the ‘lede’ or ‘lead’ of the article, and is essentially like a preface in a book.
The next paragraph, whether it has a heading or not, will usually be your introduction.
4. Brevity is best – even if you need to cut out some evidence
Many other editors will disagree with me on this point, but I must re-emphasise, again, that you are not writing an academic paper which requires extensive justification for your assertions. In ordinary articles, this is not necessary, depending on your audience. If you are writing to a libertarian audience, you usually do not need to explain at length why the State is a violent institution, for example.
The best length of an article has been said to be 500 to 800 words. Any longer than this might cause ordinary readers to bookmark your article to ‘read later’ – something which doesn’t always happen. Longer articles, however, certainly have their place, and this will usually depend on what you intend your article to be – a summary, a comprehensive analysis, a manifesto – and whether or not you are commenting on something timely or timeless.
5. Be aware of – but do not become a slave to – the replies to your articles
Many writers are very concerned about the responses they get to their articles. This is good, as this is how a market ordinarily functions. However, just like a company should be free to determine for itself how to do things, should a writer not submit himself entirely to the whims of his readers.
Be conscious of what your readers think about your work, but don’t let that get in the way of continuing to do what you’re doing. After all, you have an idea you’re trying to sell, and just because others are not willing to buy it doesn’t mean you have to stop. Otherwise, libertarians would be in big trouble!
6. Preach to the choir
Don’t be afraid of preaching your message to the converted.
Libertarians often need to have our core principles put to us in different ways, or simply reminded of our core principles in the first place, which sometimes get lost in the academization of libertarianism. By reading others’ interpretations or conveyances of our principles, we can also learn how to more effective market our ideas.
7. Don’t shy away from writing the same thing over and over
Another common concern libertarian writers often have is that they have already written an article on a given topic, or that one of their colleagues wrote one, and thus they feel they shouldn’t do so again or as well.
Repackage your previous article. Write it in a different way. Look at the topic from another angle. Or don’t; write it from the same angle, but in response to a different event. But never think that it is not necessary to write something just because it has already been written about, by you or someone else. Libertarian ideas are not winning or widely known, so it is fair to say that most people probably have not read about that topic you think has been exhausted.
8. Don’t expect payment
I left this one for last, as it tends to upset quite a number of new and even experienced writers.
It takes years for columnists to get paid a significant amount – or any amount – of money for writing. You should not set out to write because you want to get paid – there is an oversupply of people who want to give their opinions for money. As an up and coming libertarian writer, you should always humble yourself, as you are part of an era where sharing your ideas with virtually everyone else in the world is easier than it has ever been. Imagine: Your ideas can reach further than the dictates of kings and dictators just a few hundred years ago.
We are all capitalists, and that means we believe that one shouldn’t expect time and effort from someone else with some kind of reciprocity. However, being capitalists, we also accept the principle of value subjectivity and reject the labor theory of value. This means, principally, that other people must value being able to see your opinion more than they value the amount the paywall charges. But it also means that you have to value your time and effort more than you value writing for the libertarian cause and spreading our ideas. And this, for an up and coming writer, is not recommended. You should want to write because you have something meaningful to say and you want to share it with others.
Too many writers have argued that non-monetary payment does not qualify as payment. To up and coming libertarian writers, the payment offered by a platform is often the platform itself, with a potentially massive audience just waiting to be exposed to your brand and ideas. It is, unfortunately, quite one-dimensional to perceive payment in currency as the only valid type of payment. If your problem is putting food on the table, writing opinion articles might not be the best way to ensure that happens.
Keep at it consistently and develop yourself, and the money will come eventually.
* Disclosure: At the time of writing I was ill with a cold and sinusitis. Please excuse me if some of my writing here seems more abrupt than usual.
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