Wednesday, 11 April 2012

J is for Journalism

Welcome to letter J in my A-Z series, "Things That Made Me a Writer".

As you may know from certain previous postings, I credit my journalism experience as a real turning point in my career. The main thing I got from it was focus and precision.

Previously to this, I would start a "short" story and use up about three pages describing a character's typical day, how they got home from work, what they liked to cook, what sort of slippers they wore and their favourite TV programme. You're yawning, right? I know. There's no chance of me ever releasing any of these mundane meanderings into the wider world.

But in journalism, you're taught to include the five W's in your very first paragraph: who, what, where, why and who (and how's pretty important too). You don't have to be as strict in that in fiction, but the lesson learned is to get to what the reader needs to know as quickly as possible.

There are many other benefits. You learn to touch type, and while I'm not 100% fluent any more, I'm much faster now than at the time of my first painstaking attempts. And of course you have deadlines drilled into you. I'll never forget contributing to producing two issues of a college newspaper in two weeks as features editor: doesn't sound like much, but since it was worked around all the other classes, it was kind of frenetic. I think I could definitely give Nanowrimo a shot after that!

I'll wrap it up now in the journalistic spirit of keeping these posts short and sweet. Do you have any press experience or something similar that has helped shape you as a writer?

30 comments:

Lynda R Young said...

precision writing. I love it. I imagine journalism is a great discipline for any writer.

Tobi Summers said...

I did high school newspaper, then switched the television news in college, and I agree that it had a pretty big impact on my writing. I've never been overly descriptive, but I was meandering. I think journalism made me better able to see the forest from the trees and get my point across more effectively.

And the deadline thing. Definitely the deadline thing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick .. thanks for commenting and joining .. good to meet you - especially as you know this neck of the woods .. though live way north now .. well over the border at least.

I'm way too verbose - and I'm sure I should take advice from here. I just write for fun on the blog for now .. and as long as people visit my normal type posts and are happy - then I'm happy!

I like the Fedora and press tag ..

I'll be back to read more .. cheers Hilary

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I agree. Journalism teaches you to keep it altogether.

Stephen Tremp said...

Hi Nick, great post! I need to look at my current WIP and make sure I have those five Ws front and center for the reader. And thanks for stopping by today.

L.G.Smith said...

I don't have any journalism experience, though I kind of think maintaining a blog is somewhat like running an online magazine on a very small scale. I have deadlines and impose word limits on myself for the most part. It has helped teach me to get to the point, though you may not know it from this rambling comment. :)

Kyra Lennon said...

I don't have any journalism experience. Pretty much everything I learned about writing came from reading and talking to other writers. :)

Lucy Adams said...

In retrospect, I should have majored in journalism in college. It's ironic that I didn't and I now write for magazines and newspapers.

Happy A to Z,
Lucy

Lydia Kang said...

I don't have any press experience but I have writer friends who have. They're insight into journalism has been so helpful. I'm in a writing group and sometimes people have essays that are more journalistic, than say, creative non-fiction and it's been so helpful to see their point of view.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Hope you're enjoying your A-Z challenge! :)

Lydia Kang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia Kang said...

Grr. That's supposed to be "their" not "they're" in that second sentence. I am not a total grammar doofus.

C.B. Wentworth said...

I've always had this weird inner drive to write. During the years I wasn't writing, I always felt like I should be jotting down phrases and creating stories. I think those "void" years taught me that writing isn't just a hobby, but rather a need.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Unfortunately, I don't have a very positive attitude about journalists right now. I work for a city, and the local newspaper doesn't like us. It doesn't make any difference what we do, there's always a scathing bias. And the local mayor had best do some serious butt kissing to the editorial board or pay the price.

That's not what I was led to believe journalism was supposed to be.

kmckendry said...

I don't have any journalism experience but I can imagine it's a great place to hone those writing skills.

Working on children's picture books has helped me keep things short and sweet!

Jen Chandler said...

Hi Nick!

Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. Nice to meet you.

My Creative Writing major is really helping me tighten up my writing. Not to mention all my class papers have word limits and, since I'm at school online, our discussion board posts need to be short and to the point.

Enjoy the challenge!
Jen

PS: New follower :D

Nick Wilford said...

Lynda - Yes I think any sort of writer can learn from it. I'm still not always that precise but I try.

Tobi - TV news, pretty cool! Glad it helped you in your writing too.

Hilary - I'm north of the border too!

I don't think there's any hard and fast rule when writing blog posts, if people like it you're doing something right!

It's not a special picture - type "press hat" into Google images and there's millions of them. Don't know if I should admit that but we used Google when getting pictures for the college paper so I assume it's OK!

Mary - Quite so.

Stephen - It's not quite the same with fiction - it's good to let the reader work some stuff out on their own, but the general principle is to get to the point!

L.G. - Your comment's not too ranbling, I've written worse! Looking at a blog like a magazine is a good idea, though those that are more random and all over the place can be fun too.

Kyra - That is a great way to learn too. I never stop learning from the blogs I read!

Lucy - On the job training is perhaps superior to what you learn in college. I do wish I had more concrete experience - only did 3 months in my local paper, 5 minutes from the house!

Lydia - Sounds like you learn a lot from your friends, that's great.

Lol, I wouldn't worry about grammar too much. I'm not editing you!

C.B. - It took me a long time to find the courage to give fiction writing a go. I wish I'd done more of it alongside my journalism.

Nick Wilford said...

Donna - I really wish journalism was not in the state it is. Just look at the whole phone hacking scandal in the UK - a whole paper, the News of the World, got closed down over it with the editor imprisoned. I can't remember a time when the press was more reviled and that's saying something. Sorry to hear about your situation.

Kathy - Yep, need to be brief with those picture books!

Jen - Nice to meet you too! Sounds like your studies are really helping you - all good.

Morgan said...

I know several writers who were journalists... there really is something to this profession, eh?

Great post. And I definitely recommend NaNo... such an adventure! ;D

DL Hammons said...

I wrote for my high school newspaper...does that count? :)

Liwi said...

Keeping it short and to the point is something I am constantly working on when it comes to articles/papers! I have an amazing friend who studied creative writing and she's brutally honest when it comes to editing. So I try to be brutally honest with editing myself as well! On a sidenote being a journalist has always been a dream of mine, especially being an investigative journalist. Just seems like such an exciting profession! I might be a bit too passionate for that though haha.

The Golden Eagle said...

I don't have any journalism experience, but it sounds like a great way to sharpen your writing skills.


The Golden Eagle
The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

Cynthia said...

I write for the local city newspaper. I enjoy journalism, and find that the more I write, the more I get to learn about the craft.

Nick Wilford said...

Morgan - Yes, and just look at the famous precedents - Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett, and Swift who I mentioned in my post all started this way, not bad eh?

I'm thinking about Nano this year. I'll need to see if we're away in November. We usually are!

DL - Absolutely! All good experience! :)

Liwi - Sounds like a good friend to keep you on track!

There's something about the word "investigative", isn't there? Conjures up images of going undercover and cloak and dagger stuff. :) I think being passionate about the topic you investigate is good as long as your personal views don't colour how you handle it too much.

Golden Eagle - You've definitely got the skills to write great science articles!

Cynthia - Any writing is good practice, I think. Even a blog comment!

Leigh Covington said...

This is great information. Worth bookmarking or at least making a note of. I think it could help with my writing, for sure! And I'm all about short & sweet! :)

Jay Noel said...

I was a co-sponsor of a high school newspaper. You're right - it helped sharpen that focus immediately. You only have so much room to engage the reader.

Maryann Miller said...

Since I have an extensive journalism background, this post really resonated with me. Having those deadlines was good discipline for me, and now I set myself a personal deadline. If I don't, I don't seem to get as much written on my current book. I also like your reference to "precision" writing. We did learn that, didn't we.

Kelley Lynn said...

Hmmm....what is touch type? (Does that question make me sound really naive? haha)

No journalism background but I read the paper!

Nick Wilford said...

Leigh - Glad to be of help! Thanks for saying it was worth bookmarking!

Jay - The strict wordcounts in reporting definitely make for good practice.

Maryann - Nice to hear about your experience. I'm glad it has helped you as a writer.

Kelley - Touch typing is typing without looking down because your fingers know exactly where all the keys are. I said I was less than 100% fluent now... it's probably more like 50, or 30, but I'm definitely faster anyway!

Sarah Pearson said...

I wish I had been involved in journalism somewhere - it might have taught me not to use twenty words when five will do :-)

Nick Wilford said...

Sarah - Well, if they're a good twenty words!