Writing: Loving the Unlovable Assignment

Photo by Mozzercork via flickr (cc)

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to pitching ideas, I lean toward the ones I will enjoy researching and writing. I suspect most writers are the same. When those are assigned, I get that happy-happy, joy-joy feeling that inspires me to write.

Then there’s the flip side. The email or phone call or assignment from a regular gig that makes you cringe. The one that inspires HOURS of procrastination, makes your eyelid twitch, and fills you with soul-deep angst. Ahem. Or, maybe that’s just me.

Before you think this will never happen to you, allow me to share this. Once I got my foot in the door at a couple of pubs, any time I pitched an article I would get, along with my acceptance or rejection, a counter-proposal. My editor didn’t need what I was selling, but could use someone to write about a different topic in a hurry. Was I interested?

Would YOU turn down work just because the topic is not among your favorites? I thought not.

So… you’ve just received an assignment for a topic you are not in love with. In fact, it would be a stretch to say you and the assignment are a compatible couple for a blind date. You check your supply of warm and fuzzy feelings and come up empty. You do not love this topic, but you need to write it anyway.  What now?

Make a plan.

Carpenters need blueprints; writers need bullet lists… er… or whatever works for you. Starting with a list or outline gives you a little forward momentum to get going. Sort of like a push-start for your muse.

Give yourself a challenge.

Once you’ve got a start, keep the momentum going by playing with your brain. Challenge yourself to find the interesting facets of the topic, first for yourself, and then for your readers. One trick that I’ve borrowed from school teachers is this nifty little graphic organizer called a K-W-L chart. It can come in handy here as you look for your angle. K-W-L stands for Know, Want to know, and Learned. To use it, make three lists about your assignment:

  1. Things you already KNOW about the topic.
  2. Things you WANT to find out. This can be a simple list of questions you need to answer in order to write.
  3. Tidbits you LEARN while you are answering the questions on your second list.

List number three is the key. This is where you may discover that a dull topic holds a spark of interest for you after all. Challenge yourself to find the most interesting and unusual information.

Tap your creativity.

This is where you get to dress up that dull idea using your skills as a writer. What examples/anecdotes/wordplay can you weave into the piece to breathe life into it for the reader? What approach can you take to make your writing entertaining? Find the fun inside the creative process of writing instead of inside the topic.


Do you have a trick for tackling less than lovable assignments? Tell me about it in the comments.


2 comments on “Writing: Loving the Unlovable Assignment

  1. Excellent post…this has recently happened to me a couple of times, but frustratingly, after I committed to working on a counter pitch and worked really hard to develop something I wouldn’t normally write about, I was met with the sound of so many crickets chirping in the distance. Sometimes I just bang my head against the wall chanting, “What am I doing wrong?” over and over and over…

  2. Ann, I feel your pain. Um… also, you are denting that wall, so please stop pounding your head like that. 😉

    There’s nothing worse than struggling to produce something an editor requests when it doesn’t go well in the end. If I’m working on an editor’s idea, as opposed to one of my own, communication is critical. I’ll check with my editor before, during, and after writing to be sure I’ve delivered what he or she needs.

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