Dusting Off an Old Writer’s Manual For Medium

Can The Freelance Writer’s Handbook, from 1987, help us out in the 2020s?

Aaron Jacklin
3 min readMay 22


As a young journalist in the early 2000s, I came across a slim volume that made my life much easier. It was already old then.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

In it, I found many helpful tips and ideas, including a number of article formats that promised to turn regular writers into “magicians” able to produce quality content in record time. I’m not claiming to have ever done magic, but using the formats did help speed me up when I wasn’t sure how to focus my efforts.

Now, 20 years later, as I’m beginning again as a writer, I’m turning again to the same book to see if it can help me with writing ideas. Even if it’s just to get started.

I think I can apply those storytelling formats here on Medium.

Maybe you can too.

Updating a pre-Web method for today

The Freelance Writer’s Handbook by Dennis E. Hensley and Holly G. Miller, was published in 1987, and while that was a few years before the Web was introduced to the public, these formats don’t depend on technology. They’re timeless.

Having said that, today’s technology amplifies their power. In 1987, the formats were intended for use when you had a topic and a physical file folder full of research made up of newspaper and magazine clippings on a specific topic, whether that came from your newspaper’s research files, the local library, or your own files, which freelance writers built up over time.

Using Google, we can approximate a supercharged version of these file folders of old in as much time as it takes to run a search and open new tabs in our browser.

Okay, let’s get to it.

The formats

Three of the six formats shared in The Freelance Writer’s Handbook seem most relevant to Medium.

In the first format, we compare the for and against positions:

Pro and Con Arguments

• What is positive about this thing? (Price? Style? Prestige?)

• What is negative about it? (Cost? Repairs? Noise? Tackiness?)



Aaron Jacklin

Helping create quality nonfiction crime content. Journalist/Writing Coach. Writing a book by July 2024.