On the Writing of Articles in the SCA

Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton

I'm writing this article because I've been told so many times "I love your articles. I wish I had the talent/time/will to write, but.... How DO you do it, anyway?" Tempted as I am sometimes to shrug my shoulders and say, with an enigmatic smile "What can I say? It's a gift!" , the truth is that most people in the SCA have brains, and are passionate about one topic on another, and thus possess the most important two qualifications for article writing.

Articles are a way of sharing information or your experiences with the SCA populace. It is my rather passionate belief that knowledge and research are for naught unless they are shared, and one of the best ways to do this is through the written article. Else, we continually re-invent the wheel, rather than building on past information and research. Items such as event reports also help us to perpetuate SCA history , as any longer-term SCA member who's whiled away a few hours smiling over old newsletters can attest. I also have found that there is a place to be found in one SCA publication or another for almost any article you might write, from very simple introductory articles targeted at newcomers all the way up to advanced or esoteric research. It is simply a matter of finding and knowing your audience. At the end of this article, you will find a list of a number of SCA publications and the type of article they are likely to want.

Writing Articles

First, and foremost, do you enjoy writing? Or do you find it difficult? If you are in the former category, you may skip to the next paragraph, because people who like to write rarely need to be convinced to write articles. Now, if you're in the latter category , you may be labouring under fears or assumptions resulting from high school composition experiences, and thus have writing blocks, or simply feel that your writing "isn't good enough". To this I say "relax". No one is grading you, and if your grammar or spelling is a bit non-standard, hey, that's what editors and spellcheckers are for.

The mere name "article" may also be intimidating. "Article" does not necessarily mean "definite scholarly work on a particular subject". It all depends on your audience and your topic. One constant thing about the SCA is the influx of new people who have not yet had time to consider how to survive at Pennsic, how to make a bliaut, what all of those awards are for, or the story of the Hundred Years' War. There are likewise always more established members who might appreciate an introduction to a new field, or a new view on an old topic. Furthermore, I speak from personal experience when I say most chroniclers will be thrilled to get a submission of any kind.

Another piece of advice: Go with what you know, especially if you're new to article writing. Often some of the best articles come out of topics as simple as reviewing a book or movie you've read recently, or telling how you solved some practical problem, or discussing an event you attended recently. Some of my most satisfying articles were accounts of my travels in England. Pick a topic you're passionate about, and you're already halfway there.

The Planning Process

I seemingly write articles off the top of my head--but in fact, almost everything I write is planned out mentally before I sit down at the keyboard. You may find it more useful to plan your article out on paper. The first thing you should determine is the projected length, which will be determined by how much material you decide to cover, as well as the type of publication to which you are submitting. The average word count on a page in the Tidings (the Ealdormere principality newsletter) is somewhere between 600 and 800 at 9 point type: the average 8 1/2" x 11" sheet, single spaced, at 12 point type is approximately the same length, just to give you some vague guidelines.

Now, think about your audience. What sort of newsletter is this article for, and how much exposure would you expect the average reader to have to your topic? Is this a beginner article or an advanced one? For instance, an article written for a specialist newsletter on costuming could probably skip the definitions of particular sewing terms. An article on making your calligraphy better would naturally spend less time giving an overview of how to do it in general and more time on specific mechanics involved in practicing that art. Likewise, an event review targeted at a local audience might simply use first names and allude to local jokes, whereas the same article targeted at a Principality audience would likely use full names and skip the in-jokes. A good way to get a sense of what is involved in writing articles at any level is to read other articles, keeping track of those you found particularly interesting, useful, or clearly written, and use these for your models. Also, ask around. Mention to your friends and colleagues that you're planning on writing an article on X....and ask what they'd like to see.

Your next step is to produce an outline of the points you want to cover in your article. Most articles begin with an introduction, in which you provide background information on the topic, mention your rationale for writing the article, tell who the article is meant to help, and that sort of thing. The body of the article then follows. When writing the main part of your article, you will probably want to break things down into more manageable chunks. For a how-to article, this is quite straightforward: you start off with a list of needed materials, then proceed to list what preparations are ready, followed by the instructions of how to do whatever you're teaching. For a more narrative article, think about the main points you want to make with the article, and write them down on a sheet of paper. In point form, list underneath each main point the specifics relating to that point. You will probably notice that some topics lead naturally to other topics; play around with the order and make sure it makes sense. You can actually take a point-form outline of this type and literally build an article from it. Finally, some types of articles are really little more than lists--explanations of awards, advice for Pennsic, and that sort of thing--and need little internal organization. Some folks get the impression that such pieces are not "real" articles--not true! There is very definitely a place for this type of article in many SCA publications.

If you are writing an historical or how-to article, you will want to end up with a list of sources. This helps your readers to take the next step and read what you read in writing your article. It also ensures that if something in the article is unclear , it can be confirmed elsewhere. For more in-depth articles, especially those for arts and sciences newsletters and the like, you may want to footnote as well. If you are doing this, it is useful to have the books you wish to cite at hand with the pages marked, or at least photocopies of those pages, so that you can easily refer to them. Some very organized folks number these photocopies or bookmarks in order to keep track of them. At all costs, avoid plagiarism. If someone else's ideas have influenced you, give them credit (more necessary in research articles than in how-to articles) with either a general citation in your bibliography or a specific one in a footnote.

Writing the Article

Here, I say "use what works". Some people cannot compose on a computer at all, while others could never do it any other way. Some folks sit down and compose an article at one sitting, while others write it piecemeal over many days--or weeks. Some folks write the body first, and then add introduction and conclusion; others write straight through start to finish, while still others compose in sections. There is no "right" way. If you get frustrated, feel free to shut down the computer or put away your notebook until you're "ready" to return. There are folks out there who do seem to suffer a perpetual writers' block. If you feel yourself sliding into this situation, you might consider taking on a writing partner--someone who finds the task more pleasurable or easy--who will help you put what you want to say into words.

When writing, try to be clear and concise. Use words both you and your audience can easily define--or provide definitions. Avoid overly long, run-on sentences peppered with semicolons and commas. Although big words may look impressive, if used excessively or imprecisely they make you look like a pompous windbag. Far better to word things simply and be perfectly understood.

Soliciting Feedback

Sometimes if you get stuck, the best way to get around it is to hand your draft to a friend (or more than one friend) for a critical read-through. If you want this to be effective, however, you should make sure not only that the friend can be counted on to give constructive criticism, but also that you are prepared to accept it. Being able to accept and respond to this kind of feedback is what sets apart a mature writer. If you really feel someone's comments were unfair or unfounded, seek further opinions. I know a lot of people feel very sensitive about their writing, and criticism, even if well-meant, can easily be taken personally. Remember that criticism of an article is not necessarily criticism of YOU, or even of how much you know about your topic., but of your expression on the written page.

Submitting for Publication

Before you send off your completed article, make sure you've read and understand the publication guidelines, if any. For larger publications like Tournaments Illuminated, you should be familiar with these before you get too far along in your writing, in order to avoid disappointment. Most smaller publications have few formal guidelines and will readily publish virtually anything sent to them, but make sure if your article is dependent upon the date of publication (event reviews, seasonal articles) that you find out when the pertinent deadlines are and observe them. Nothing makes a chronicler pull out his or her hair more than having to wait for promised articles until the last minute.

You should also be aware of your rights to your finished work. Many larger publications will have you sign a release form. Read it, and make sure you understand what it means. No SCA publication that I am aware of makes you give up your rights to your own work; that means that you are free to provide your articles to other newsletters and such if you wish without mentioning where they were initially published. Those of us who write widely try to insure that our articles circulate with a copyright message, our modern name and address, and any conditions of republication; I always stipulate, for example, that I receive a copy of any newsletter in which my work appears beyond its initial publication.

Be aware that your articles can easily gain a larger audience through electronic means. As a result of providing a number of my articles for inclusion in the Associated Ancient Press archives on the World Wide Web, I have received courtesy copies of newsletters from eight of the thirteen SCA kingdoms--which are a lot of fun to read! If your articles have application outside your local area, you may wish to consider this option; contact me for further details.

Finally: What do you do if your submission is rejected? Ask why. It may have nothing to do with the quality of the article, but on concerns of length, similarity in topic to another article recently published, or perhaps it is off topic for the publication in question. In these cases, you can always look for another venue for your article. If the reasons have to do with documentation or writing problems, feel free to ask what is needed to improve the article, and then do it!

Here is a listing of some SCA publications, and the types of articles they are likely to be interested in:

Tournaments Illuminated : Accepts articles of any length up to about eight single-spaced, typewritten pages. Tries to cover topics not recently covered in its pages. Standards for research have generally been rising; footnotes or endnotes, rather than a list of sources only, are preferred. Book reviews are also regularly published, as well as articles on SCA administration. Society-wide relevance. Write for publication guidelines. Compleat Anachronist: Longer articles--on the scale of 25-50 pages--are what this pamphlet series publishes. Usually on a single topic; check the list of past issues to ensure an issue has not already been done recently on your topic. Standards for documentation for research articles are generally high, but collections of poetry and fiction have also been published in the past. Society-wide relevance. Write for publication guidelines.

Kingdom newsletters: Each is a bit different in regards to articles. The Pale, which is the Middle Kingdom newsletter, runs a monthly feature called the Middle Pages. There is a limit of four newsletter-sized pages for this feature, which may cover any area of interest to SCA members in the Middle. Past topics have included , among others: listings of Middle Kingdom Laurels and archery rankings, introductory brewing, SCA etiquette and protocol, the charter s for the Equestrian College and the Huntly Pack (coursing hounds), and running a feast. Contact the Middle Kingdom chronicler if there is a topic you'd like to propose.

Baronial and local newsletters: Although each one is a bit different, baronial and local chroniclers are always happy to get anything that specifically relates to the group in question. Event reports are very popular, and many also enjoy receiving persona stories, information on local resources or exhibitions, and the like, as well as the more familiar research and how-to articles. Local newsletters are particularly suited to orientation articles for newcomers. This is often an excellent place to start your article writing career, as short articles are almost always appreciated. Contact your local chronicler for details.

Special-interest newsletters: As you might expect, the topic for articles for these newsletters is anything which falls within the newsletter's mandate. These include guild newsletters (such as the Knack or Warped and Twisted in Ealdormere), independent Arts and Sciences newsletters (such as the Boke of Divers Knowledge), newsletters devoted to fighting (such as Chronique) or heraldry (Jessant de Lys) or other single topics; or special issues of regular newsletters (the Pale or Tidings Arts and Sciences issue). These newsletters tend to attract slightly more advanced-level articles than do local newsletters, but each one is different. Many are quarterly. Contact the editor for submission guidelines.

Copyright 1996, Susan Carroll-Clark. All rights reserved.