"How To" Hobby Articles
Maybe you're a beginner in some hobby. Maybe you've forgotten more than most people know about your hobby. Either way, you have something of value to share. In my experience, anyone who has been seriously involved in a hobby for more than a few months has a great deal to share, even if you don't think you do. This article simply provides a few tips to help you decide what you might write about.
Note: Much of my hobby writing involves gardening, music, or model trains, so most of my examples draw on one of those topics. However, I've dabbled in enough other hobbies to know that most principles of writing for hobby magazines, newsletters or web sites are the same, regardless of the hobby. If my examples don't mean anything to you, think about your own experiences and observations - chances are you'll be able to think of a bunch of useful examples.
Consider Topics that are Under-Represented in the Resources You Support or Find UsefulWhat magazines, web sites, etc., do you find helpful? Do they have any "blind spots"? It may be that the webmaster or editor would love to publish more information on a certain aspect of the hobby, but hasn't received much input. I'm not talking about stuff that gets discussed in chat rooms or discussion forums, but actual articles where folks who don't spend hours a day interacting with other folks on those sites can find important information quickly (either through the site index or through Google).
Every hobby web site owner or newsletter publisher I know wants to grow the hobby, and most would be glad to hear from anyone who can help them make their resource more useful, especially to folks who are new to the hobby or new to their web site.
Also, you may notice that most articles that HAVE been published on particular resources have a particular focus or slant. Don't let that discourage you - that may have more to do with who is providing materials than what the webmaster thinks is important. For my web pages, I almost never turn down an article that I think will be useful to my core audience, but certain contributors are a lot more prolific than others. If most of my articles on a particular site seem to be about X, that just may be because I'm getting a lot more articles about X than about Y. But Y may be must as important to me and the majority of my readers. (Note: If you're wondering what kind of articles I'm personally looking for, be sure and read the article "Writing For (and With) Breakthrough Communications™ Websites" when you're through with the rest of the articles in this series.)
Where do you get your hobby information? Whether it's a magazine or a web site, or even a club newsletter, think about the things you're doing in the hobby, and whether or not there have been recent articles on the subject. The time may be right for you to make an addition. In some cases, all you really need to do might be to organize information you're already sharing in some other way, say in person at club meetings, or in blogs, discussion forums, or social networking sites.
Consider Topics With Broad AppealYour first priority should be topics that would be useful to 1/3 or more of folks involved in this hobby. To use model railroading as an example, an article on how to mass-produce a realistic forest quickly will help more people than an article on how to lower the coupler height on a particularly "tricky" locomotive. Now, if you ARE lowering the coupler height on a particularly tricky locomotive, go ahead and take photographs and document it. But the broader topic will help more people and help to build the hobby more quickly in the long run.
In some cases, you may be able to take a topic that is very specific and make it useful for a broader audience. Document your project, with photos, lists of materials, etc. But try to make what you report applicable to similar projects. Research similar projects that other folks have done, to see if you can extract any overall principles that apply beyond the specific project you're showing. (If you've read many of my articles, you know that I love "rules of thumbs," but I also make certain to point out that "your mileage may vary.") If you borrow other folks' ideas, be sure and give them credit: e-mail them if you can to ask permission, and cross-link to their articles, if possible.
Maybe all of your photographs will still be of a specific project. But adding a list of tips and tricks to try for similar projects will make for an article that is more likely to be read - and used - by more people.
Consider Projects That Don't Require Specialized, Expensive ToolsAs an example, most families have a few power tools. But when you start documenting projects that require a Shopsmith or a Roland sign cutter or the like, you limit your articles' usefulness in a hurry, and you make some folks feel "disenfranchised" from that part of the hobby. Even if you own expensive tools that make the job easy, try documenting your project so it can be done by folks with "everyday" tools.
An example might be using a Xacto-type knife and mat board to cut a stencil that you might ordinarily cut with your Crikut. I love what you can do with a device like a Crikut, but if your hobby project can't happen without one, then you've seriously limited your audience.
Consider Topics that You're Already Documenting in Discussion Forums
If you participate in the discussion groups (forums) of any hobby web site, you've probably seen lots of folks' project ideas, and before-and-after photos. Some sites even have "project journal" forums where folks can keep posting photos of ongoing projects. These are great, don't get me wrong. But if you're doing that already, please consider collecting that SAME information into a folder on your computer and asking site owner if he or she would be interested in helping you put it into an article format for the site. Once again, articles pull readers into a site and into the hobby much faster than discussion forums, and they are much easier for "newbies" to find during Google searches.
If 5% of the topics that have been discussed - and even documented in detail - in many web sites' discussion forums and chat rooms were reorganized and posted in the "article" sections of the same sites, those sites would immediately become many times more useful and accessible to beginning and intermediate hobbyists.
Consider Documenting New Helpful ApproachesMaybe you've figured out a shortcut that will help lots of folks achieve their desired results quickly. If you have a new approach that will revolutionize the hobby, go for it. As an example, in late 2002, our Family Garden Trains editors became aware of a new way to easily build complex garden railroads with graceful curves. We got ahold of the designer, (Bill Logan, of Columbus), found a photographer (Peter Wine, of Dayton, Ohio), who had already taken a bunch of photos, and put together the first-ever published article on Bill Logan's method. Today this method is often called the "ladder" method, and it has been used by many hundreds of hobbyists all over the world. In fact, Bill's method has been "adapted" and "adopted" by so many folks that many hobbyists don't know where the original ideas came from. But, more importantly, the hobby has grown, and hobbyists have another useful option to consider, whether they are starting or expanding their garden railroads.
Document Any Project You're Going to Do AnywayThis may seem like a no-brainer, but I have a lot of friends who still do what I did for years - try out something so hare-brained that it probably won't work, so they don't take any photos or keep records. Then when it does work out, they wind up doing the same project over again to get photos so they can put together an article on the subject.
This is the no-brainer part of this discussion. If you're going to be doing something anyway, even if you don't plan to write an article now, take lots of digital photos. Be especially careful to photograph anything that would be tricky to document without a photo. And keep lists of materials (or take a photo of your materials and tools so you can make a list later). You would be surprised how often a simple "no-brainer" project that you work into a simple article will get someone who doesn't have your confidence off the couch and into the workshop. And your approach to even the most overdocumented kind of project will add to the core knowledge of the hobby.
ConclusionOn some of my hobby sites, I have been squeezing in links to useful articles by other folks, so that my readers would have better access to other resources, approaches, and opinions. The irony is that when I started deliberately looking for useful articles in several areas, I discovered that there aren't as many out there as I assumed there were. This is especially obvious in areas that have been "documented to death" in books and magazines, like indoor model railroading. Most of my contemporaries (aging baby-boomers) seem to think that's fine; after all, they bought all the books they needed on the subject in the 1960s, and they've been subscribing to Model Railroader or something all along. But what about someone who bought their first train set last year and hasn't been steeped in our subculture for decades? Wouldn't it be nice if they could get at least a basic understanding of the fundamentals of the hobby from a few good, well-organized internet sources?
Garden Railroading is the exception - it grew up with the Internet, so many good resources got posted on the web before they found their way into books, while we were all learning our way through the hobby. But many other hobbies are woefully underdocumented on the Internet, which is, frankly, the first place most people look today when they want information about some interest they're just getting into or thinking about getting into.
If your interests run to writing books or writing for magazines, that's great, too - those are still being published, as well. But there is a far larger audience for good articles about most hobby topics than you might imagine until you start writing for that audience yourself.
In short, don't be put off by the fact that you saw a good article on the subject in an old magazine, or that everybody in your local club already knows how to do something. When you post even the most basic hobby information on a well-organized web site (yours or someone else's), you will reach people you never dreamed of reaching. Wait until you start getting reader feedback from places like Dubai, Sri Lanka, Argentina, and Outer Mongolia, as I have.
And keep in mind that you REALLY learn a subject when you try to explain it to the next person.
Looking forward to your suggestions, additions, and criticisms, I remain,
P.S. Enjoy your hobbies, but especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.
For more information about writing about your hobby, please check out the following articles:
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