How Journalism Made Me a Writer

Jan 20

When I was laid off after eight years at my marketing/advertising job at the golf course, I was in a weird situation. I had an abundance of job experience working since I was 14, but a serious lack of a piece of paper. I chose a degree with a focus in journalism because I figured with my experience, I could continue in the marketing/advertising field, go the PR direction or break into journalism.

I quickly made it up to editor-in-chief, even though I didn’t want the position, and was asked to fill up the editorial section. It wasn’t the hard news that we always had in class, so it was a nice change to be able to use my own words and give my opinion. It also reignited that flame from when I was a child of creative writing, but I didn’t jump back into it yet.

My grandfather was diagnosed with alzheimer’s and I volunteered to help out more while I searched for work. I decided to give the Bleacher Report a try and I think that’s what broke the camel’s back. I have nothing against the Bleacher Report. They offer many people new to writing a way to break into it, see what it’s like to work with editors, get reader feedback and for most, to fail in the industry. For me, it was too restrictive. The titles, the topics… the specific way each article had to be worded, while great from a SEO standpoint, felt like I was rewriting someone else’s ideas down, instead of my own. And when I did write it my way, I had my largest hit count (13,000) while the rest of the pieces done their way reached around 1,000 views. It made the creative flicker want to become a flame and burn down the proverbial forest.

I started a novel. Yes, a daunting task for any writer, but I did it anyway. I wasn’t disciplined or structured in my planning or writing schedule, but it hunkered along. About 15,000 words in, Hurricane Sandy came along and destroyed my story location. I had chosen to make it a locally placed story and now it was a mess. So I put the novel on the back burner and wrote, but not consistently. When I wanted to pick it up again, the boardwalk caught fire, so now another new set of locations in my story was now wiped out. Someone didn’t want me writing this novel!

I met a bunch of  writers on twitter and things took off from there. Finally having that discussion group was that last step needed to really propel my writing career. And this is where the journalism experience helped.

1 – Interviewing.
Knowing how to ask questions and have follow-up questions in your head saves a lot of time. Even when just talking to other writers, making the questions clear is still key.

2 – Researching. 
Know what you write. Even if it’s the simplest of details, you have to make your story accurate. If you’re inventing something in sci-fi, you still have to make sure it fits into the world you’re creating believably. How would that laser rifle really perform. You can invent a new technology, but understanding the way the previous technology works will allow you to show your readers how it was thought up. Spark their imagination and you’ll have them hooked.

3 – News writing is perfect for action sequences.
Action requires short, concise sentences. It drives the action. It makes the reader pause. It creates the tension for you.  You don’t need to force it and you won’t overdo it. The reader will become tense because his mind is stopping and going and when it does get to a point of climax, his mind gets to take it all in. Long, descriptive sentences can look great in those situations, but they won’t have the emotional tug.

There are plenty of other things I learned while getting my journalism degree, but they’re common sense. Self editing AFTER it’s done, not during. Reading what you wrote out loud, so you can hear errors that you missed with a glance.

Writing at its core is writing, no matter which style you start with or end up with. As long as you write, you can call yourself what you wish. The great baconator is already claimed by someone over at prosebeforehohos though.

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