Monday will be my first day as the digital editor of ShootingIllustrated.com. I loved working for Ammoman and they are truly an amazing company, but this is a chance to work on one of the web’s leading gun-related websites, and I couldn’t pass it by. This change presented me with an opportunity to talk about what I’ve learned after a dozen years of doing this gun writing part time and full time for almost three years.
- Stay In Your Lane.
You’ll note that I don’t write about hunting or big-bore revolvers or old-school lever guns. There are reasons for that. I know sweet diddly squat about these topics, and any attempt to produce content for those things would be either a) sophomoric, b) full of errors or c) both.
- Avoid Gun Counter Lore At All Costs.
No, a .45 will not knock somebody down with one shot. A snub nose 38 is probably not the best first gun for a woman. The M1 Garand should not be the current service rifle of the U.S. military, no matter what General Patton said about it.
- Write Clearly And Plainly.
This can be very tough to learn. My friend Jon Gabriel is a better writer than I am, and one trick I learned from him was to pick out a short (1000 words or so) article or excerpt from your favorite author and literally copy it out, word for word. In doing so, you’ll gain a new understanding about how he/she creates their paragraphs and weaves the language into something more than just words.
- Never Miss Deadlines.
And by never, I don’t mean, “hardly ever,” I mean NEVER. If your editor gave you three weeks to write an article, write in three weeks. Better yet, do it in two. Make the deadline, and do it consistently, and editors will listen to your article pitches with more interest, and maybe even toss some articles your way that you didn’t pitch. Speaking of which…
- Bring Something To The Party.
Don’t expect an editor to give you an article. Instead, give him or her your ideas for articles. Make their job easier by coming up with the idea, and then turning that idea into a well-written, well researched article, and editors will love you forever. That reminds me…
- Do Your Homework.
And by homework, I don’t mean “Ask your forum buddies or Facebook friends for advice.” Okay, I can get away with that because I’m friends with people who wrote the original source material, people like Massad Ayoob or Craig Douglas or Karl Rehn. Your buddy Fred who used to be a cop is not, I repeat NOT in that same league. Read up on the classics. In The Gravest Extreme. Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals. Anything by Jim Cirillo. There are literally hundreds of good books out there you can start with, and you can’t talk about where we are right now without knowing where we’ve been.
- When In Doubt, Write.
I had another writer friend of mine say to me once, “Look, I’m not like you, Kevin, I get writer’s block.” The thing is, though, that I do get writer’s block. Pretty bad at times. However, rather than get frustrated that the word well has run dry (thus ensuring that it gets even drier), I step away from the keyboard and fold laundry. Or do work on a photo for an upcoming article. Or call up a friend and chat for a bit. I know, based on 30+ years of working in the content creation business that the idea will be there. I just need to let it happen. And it always, ALWAYS does.
- Start A Blog.
This is a way to turn #7 into reality. To borrow from Unc, I do this to please me, not you. Who cares if no one reads it? You’re doing it for YOU, not for someone else. Blogging is intellectual prototyping. Make your writing mistakes when no one reads you, then get better. I first started blogging in 2003, and for three years after that, no one read anything I wrote. Then in 2006 I started to get some notice, and here we are today.
- So You’re An Influencer. So What?
There has been huge growth in gun-related social media, with overnight social media stars who have follower counts in the millions. The problem is, YouTube videos and Instagram posts affect search results in Google but lightly. Content websites like Ammoman and others rely on search results like a drowning man relies on a life vest. This means that one link from Instapundit is worth more than a dozen mentions from Hickok45. If you can write and do videos, great, you’re hired. If all you can do is say “Hey guys, what’s up, here’s a cool gun, let’s go shoot it!” your chances of making it in print/web content are slim to none, and slim just left town.
- Learn To See.
Speaking of the visual medium, a writer that can write AND take good pictures is worth a lot more than just a writer or a photographer. Ah, but you say, I just have a phone, how can I take good photos of guns and stuff? Stop using a lack of gear to disguise a lack of effort. There are a gazillion apps out there that can help you take charge of your phone’s camera settings, and indirect lighting works great no matter what camera you are using. Just don’t, under ANY circumstances, think that applying an Instagram filter is all you need to do.
Go to SHOT. Go to the NRA Show. Find Reddit meetups in your area. Work on turning your virtual connections via social media into real connections via face to face meetings. People will talk about your work more if they’ve met the person behind the keyboard.
And that’s about all I can think of. What did I miss?