Valerie J. Steimle
If you are like me in writing blog posts and articles for online websites, then these little tidbits of information can really beef up your writing skills. I can take any email or prior writing and morph it into something new and exciting... not bragging but this list if nine how-tos can really help when you are in a bind. These ideas are actually a collection of information from different sources online so have at it and good writing....
1. Write earlier. This teaches you what you already know and what you need to know. When I begged for more time on a story it was usually because I felt I needed more time to report, to understand the subject. "I need a couple more hours/days/weeks," I'd tell my editor. When I started drafting earlier, I began to see that the hole I needed to fill was already complete, but there are other gaps I wouldn't have recognized as quickly.
Revision doesn't mean more time, but rescheduling the time you have. Let's face it. Whatever time we have for a story most of us spend the bulk of reporting. After all, we're reporters. But there are ways to build in revision earlier in the process.
2. Hit the print button as early as possible. Computers are wonderful, but they give the illusion of perfection. To revise this column, I made a printout of the first draft, approximately 1,000 words written in less than an hour over two days. I began by crossing things out, penning in questions, examining the prose (which sentences held up, which need re-tooling, etc.)
3. Put it away. John Fowles, the British novelist ("French Lieutenant’s Woman"), described drafting as much as 60,000 words and then putting them in a desk drawer for a few months. Nice work, I can hear the journalists out there muttering, if you can get it.
Few working writers, especially those under daily or even weekly deadlines, have that freedom. But any attempt to put a story out of your mind will give your unconscious mind the chance to work on it.
correspondent, there were days when the time between assignment and deadline
was less than 4 to 5 hours. Even so, I tried to leave myself 10-15 minutes
before deadline to print out the story, stick the printout in my back pocket
and head out of the
for a quick walk. National
I did my best not to think of my story, instead focusing my attention on the weather and the parade of lobbyists and tourists. Despite the distractions, by the time I made it two blocks to the Civil War monument in front of the U.S. Treasury building fresh questions about the story in my pocket began popping up like the tulips in front of the White House.
Had I really supported my lead? Should I move that quote higher up? Would that fact buried in the middle of the story make a more resonant ending? Did I need to make a quick call to check a fact or get one more piece of persuasive evidence? What could be discarded, what needed fleshing out?
4. Break revision into manageable tasks. Sometimes the sheer enormity of revisions overwhelms me. Make separate printouts — one for names and titles, another for verb constructions, a third to trim the fat from quotes.
5. Read aloud. Listen to your story and you can hear where it flags, where a quote runs on or echoes the previous phrase (The mayor said he's dissatisfied with the council's action. "I'm just not satisfied," Mayor Naughton said).
6. Diagnose, then treat. As you read, make quick notes ("cut," "move up?" "boring?" "stronger evidence?") Then go back and make the necessary changes.
7. Test your story against your focus. If it's about a young woman's fight against cerebral palsy, why does it begin with an anecdote about her grandfather's experiences in the
8. Find a first reader. Editors are our first readers--and our last line of defense. Show your draft to an editor--or a colleague. Ask them to tell you what works and what needs work. Ask for a movie of their reading. Better to turn in something to an editor that we know isn't perfect with an eye to finding the promise and the pitfalls in it and the path to a clear, concise, readable story than letting the whole world see our mistakes.
9. Develop patience. When I begin to write, the ideas often flow in a flood, leaving the landscape obscured by mountains of impenetrable mass, uprooted trees, houses and everything else in its path. Instead of a tidy piece of prose, what I have is a mess that makes my spirits droop. I wanted it to be so good and instead it seems so bad that I fear I can never get it to the point where anybody else would want to read it. I have to keep telling myself it will come if I keep at it.