You might not realize it, but the crossword is still one of the most popular parts of many newspapers… with lots of people buying a copy for that reason alone. After the front and back page, the sport and the TV sections it’s high up on the list of ‘most read’ pages. So there is a healthy demand for people to write and sell crossword puzzles.
This could be a great sideline opportunity for you. Especially good if you’re a dedicated crossword puzzler. But you can try it even if you’re not. You don’t need to be especially good at English.
Here are seven tips on how to write crosswords:
1. Think of the theme
Start by thinking of a theme for your puzzle. For example something like history, or geography, travel, film and TV or famous people etc. You don’t necessarily have to reveal what your theme is to your readers. But it will make it much easier to come up with words and clues.
2. Write a long list of words
Now write a long list of words which relate to your theme. At least 25 or 30 to start with. Everything you can think of. This will be your ‘word bank’, to draw words from for your puzzle. (But you don’t necessarily need to use them all.)
3. Include short and long words
Include both long and short words… but don’t have many words under four letters. Try and choose words which include lots of ‘often used’ letters… such as the vowels A, E, I, O, U plus S, T, L, M, N… which will be easier to fit together. Avoid too many words that use Z, Q and X for the same reason!
4. Link longer words together in the center
Now get some graph paper and a pencil. Pick five or six of the longer words from your list and try and link them together in the centre of the page, starting with a horizontal. Now try to fit in the smaller words around them. Build up your grid from there. Finish off by filling in the spaces with a blank.
5. Number every square that contains the letter of a word
Once your grid is complete number every square that contains the first letter of a word. Divide these into two lists, one of ‘Across’ words and another of ‘Down’ words.
6. Start to create clues!
Now the fun begins! The next stage is to create a clue for each word. Most crosswords either have simple clues or cryptic clues – don’t mix both types in the same crossword.
7. Need word help? Get a thesaurus.
A thesaurus is a really handy way of finding clue ideas for crosswords. You can either buy one or find one free online. Just look up whatever your clue is and get a list of words which mean something similar and which could be the basis of your clue.
If you’re into crossword puzzling you might know that you can actually get computer programs to help you create and/or solve crossword puzzles. You can use these if you wish (although the good ones tend to be quite expensive). Also, some buyers prefer crossword puzzles that haven’t been created by a computer – so always check first.
Now to selling crossword puzzles
Most magazines and lots of magazines have crossword puzzles and might be interested in buying your puzzles. Write to them and ask. Start with smaller publications… not with The Times and so on!
Larger newspapers and magazines tend to have regular, in-house crossword compilers. But don’t be put off approaching those who do… they still buy puzzles from freelancers sometimes. And this could be your foot in the door to get a job as in-house compiler in future.
One more tip when compiling puzzles for newspapers: They tend to have a fixed grid size which they’re very reluctant to change. It’s also sometimes the case that the grid pattern is EXACTLY the same with every crossword, just rotated a different way or a mirror image and so on. So be sure to check some back issues before you write specifically for that publication.
There are also some puzzle agencies which write crossword puzzles for selling on to the publishing industry. Here’s one you could take a look at: Clarity Media at http://www.clarity-media.co.uk (Their website also has lots of useful info. about puzzling.)
Another place to sell your crossword puzzles is puzzle book publishers. They often have a need for hundreds or crosswords a year.
Educational publishers also need crosswords for books and study aids which are created for children or use in schools.