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How to write a magazine feature

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With the competition to have your work published in Stylist's 100th Made By You issue now on, we ask Stylist's regular contributors - also some of the best and wittest writers out there - for their advice on how to pitch and write a great, stand-out feature.

So if it has always been your dream to pen an article for Stylist read on for tips from Tanya Gold, Kate Spicer, Zoe Williams, Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent...

Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is a columnist at The Times and author of one of this year’s must-read books How to be a Woman where she tackles what it means to be female in the 21st century. A brilliant comic writer, Caitlin tackles important issues in a hugely entertaining way. Her work for Stylist includes a feature where she answers the modern feminist’s big questions, such as ‘Must I hate men?’ and ‘Can I bitch about other women if I am a feminist?’

1. What makes a good article?

A good article is basically what you would want to read yourself. Don’t WRITE an article – instead, sit down and make something you’d want to read, instead. Also, the first two things you think of will, undoubtedly, have been done before. You wanna keep going until you get to the third thought/idea. That one’s usually pretty unique.

2. Who is your favourite writer and why?

My favourite writer, currently, is Grace Dent. She always goes that extra mile, which is also known as “that bit too far.” She says the things I reserve only for bitchy emails to friends. She writes like an Amazon with a beehive. And her descriptions of things border on Evil Wodehouse.

3. What advice would you give to our readers who are pitching a feature idea for the first time?

When pitching an idea always be a) polite (no “I’m the best f**king writer in the world! You idiots! You will one day be my SLAVES!”), b) concise – two or three lines should sell it, and c) aware of what the “best bit” of your idea is. Very often the “best bit” of your idea is that you are willing to write it for no money at all – see: The Huffington Post. Whenever I pitch an idea, I always make sure I have a snack on hand, to eat immediately afterwards. Pitching is stressing, and you will probably need a Kitkat, a tinfoil blanket and a lie-down after doing it. I think it affects your blood-sugar levels quite badly.

Grace Dent

Grace Dent is a novelist and journalist who has penned 11 fiction books and regularly writes for The Guardian, and Marie Claire. She is a self-confessed Twitter addict and her latest book, How to Leave Twitter, explores her love-hate relationship with the social networking site. A hugely witty and vivacious writer, Grace's contributions to Stylist include a feature on why it's time to join the Twitter revolution, and her feelings of fury towards strip bars.

1. What makes a good article?

Good features are all about having a clear, distinctive voice. You can only develop that through tons of practice. My favourite writers are people who can report on something quite mundane but bring it to life through a neat turn of phrase and a touch of irreverence. I hate features that begin slowly with a ton of facts and figures and have the best point in paragraph seven. If you've got something amazing to say, begin with it.

2. Who is your favourite writer and why?

I love Janice Turner at The Times. Janice is relentlessly readable, seemingly fearless. Janice could write 3000 words on a visit to Scratchwood Services and it would still be the funniest, more riveting thing you've read that week. That's proper talent.

3. What advice would you give to our readers who are pitching a feature idea for the first time?

Keep your first e-mail very short and be polite. You'll probably get rejected or ignored the first few times- the most important thing you're doing here is trying to build up a small rapport with a commissioning editor. Be quietly determined but not weird or cocky. The trick is to be on their mental list of 'possibles' when they have a small piece of work to give out that you'd be good for.

Tanya Gold

Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for various newspapers including The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Independent. As Stylist’s regular columnist (while Lucy Mangan is on maternity leave) Tanya has written about everything from whether fat girls and thin girls can ever be friends to why first dates are so painful. Famed for her no-holds-barred approach, Tanya’s controversial columns often divide opinion (as any great columnist should).

1. What makes a good article?

Writing in your own, true voice. Too much journalism is written in the same style, so it sounds like it was written by the same person. Write what you think. Be honest. Don't hold back. Avoid cliches. (Don't hold back is, I am afraid, a cliche). Write to please yourself, not others. And don't be afraid of being interesting, or dirty - you aren't writing for your Mum.

2. Who is your favourite writer and why?

I am my favourite writer, for obvious reasons. I also like Charlotte Bronte, Martha Gellhorn, Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot and the writing team of Family Guy.

3. What advice would you give to our readers who are pitching a feature idea for the first time?

Be original. Pitch what you want to read. And keep going. Journalism is, to quote The Sound of Music, "a dream that will need all the love you can give."

Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams is a columnist for The Guardian and the New Statesman and restaurant reviewer for The Sunday Telegraph's Stella magazine. Zoe has written columns for Stylist including why Christmas is full of myths and, as a cheese obsessive, she explored the pleasure and guilt of the perfect cheese plate. Author Clive James described Zoe as “Equipped with this uncanny ability to reach out of the page and flick food crumbs off your lapels, she never writes a piece you can ignore”. We agree.

1. What makes a good article?

I have a really broad taste when it comes to journalism, I'll read anything from a 150 word personal column about going to buy some fish, to a 25,000 word, extremely research-heavy, Vanity-Fair style piece that's more like mini-non-fiction. What I go for is an idiosyncratic authorial voice, doesn't have to be funny or politicised, it just has to have character, combined with a sense that the writer respects his or her reader (I think all the major crimes of the written word - cliche, repetition, over-explication - are to do with not thinking the reader's as intelligent as you are.)

2. Who is your favourite writer and why?

I can't reduce it to one, the smallest number I can get it down to is ten: in no particular order, Polly Toynbee, John Crace, John Harris, Caitlin Moran, Matthew Parris, Dominic Lawson, Marina Hyde, Aditya Chakraborty, Janice Turner, Tim Dowling

3. What advice would you give to our readers who are pitching a feature idea for the first time?

Just think, would I read this? and have I read it a million times already? It ideally needs to be a yes to the first and a no to the second. It's quite hard. If you come up with scores of ideas that you would read, and you haven't read already, you're either a genius or you don't read enough.

Kate Spicer

Kate Spicer is a lifestyle journalist and writes for The Sunday Times and The Evening Standard, has appeared as a judge on BBC's MasterChef and is working on a documentary called Mission To Lars. Kate’s witty, insightful columns for Stylist include why the invention of the internet means she never has time to read a good book and why New Year resolutions aren’t such a bad thing.

1. What makes a good article?

Colour, detail, truth, insight, very cautious use of describing words, surprises, cheekiness, a lack of pretension, more truth, different perspectives and a modest quantity of unlaboured humour

2. Who is your favourite writer and why?

Currently, Charles Bukowski, for his ability to tell the truth in such an easy style. But it changes all the time.

3. What advice would you give to our readers who are pitching a feature idea for the first time?

Don't underestimate the importance of the pitch; if you can get your idea across clearly and succinctly in a pitch, the feature will write itself. If the pitch is a sloppy unfocussed mess you'll have trouble knowing what the story is about yourself, let alone the editor expected to commission it. I still write crappy pitches sometimes, and they always lead to confused copy.

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