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How to become a better writer

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SportsDude, Feb 27, 2008.

  1. SportsDude

    SportsDude Active Member

    How about some tips of the trade? I know a lot of threads on here offer advice on the business, but how about something on the most basic thing we do - write?

    My first tip would be to read - a lot. And to read material that is challenging, not your basic USA Today type stories.

    Any advice from those more experienced than I?
  2. spud

    spud Member

    Write every day.

    And for those who like this better...

    Write. every. day.
  3. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    Go read Death of a Racehorse on the W.C. Heinz thread.
  4. lono

    lono Active Member

    Don't just read. Analyze what you read.

    What do you like about some stories and dislike about others?

    Which literary/journalistic styles and formats work and which don't

    And here's an underrated key to becoming a great writer: Become a great reporter first.

    There is a direct correlation to the quality of the questions you ask during interviews and the quality of the copy you churn out.

    The better you know your subject and can cut to the nut of the story, the more power your writing will have.
  5. trifectarich

    trifectarich Well-Known Member

    Write. Read. Think.

    Repeat the above as often as possible.
  6. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    Don't worry about clever turns of phrase. If you're passionate about your subject matter, that will come through in your writing.

    Besides writing every day, always make the effort to get better. The people who are the best at anything constantly strive to be better.

    Don't be afraid to learn from others regardless of their experience level. I got one of my greatest wake-up calls from a guy 10 years my junior.

    Read other people's work. Figure out what you like, what you don't like and why.

    Don't spend your time trying to make yourself the next jgmacg or the next Jones or the next Double Down or the next buckweaver or the next Diabeetus or the next [insert great writer here]. Be you.

    Remember what one of the great writers on here once said: "Writing is an act of faith, and you have to approach it with genuine humility."
  7. Write for your reader, not the person sitting next to you in the pressbox.
  8. Monroe Stahr

    Monroe Stahr Member

    As a guy with a sense of humor once said, "Write about what you know. That ought to narrow it down for you."

    But then . . . keep trying to expand the base of what you know -- instead of just pretending to be an expert about everything. This business already has too many of those types.
  9. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Care about what you do.

    Do the legwork. Don't take shortcuts. Don't think that your writing will cover up the holes in your reporting.

    Be the person other people want to tell their secrets to.

    Write cleanly, concisely, economically, but with the occasional flourish -- a word, a sentence, maybe a paragraph that serves as the chorus.

    Take an hour, go for a walk, come back, and read your story again.

    Be less conscious of the words you're using, and more conscious of rhythm, pace, and structure.

    Beginnings are important, really important, but endings are more important.

    Give your readers good reason to keep reading.

    Learn when to press; learn when to loosen your grip.

    Be good. Have an open heart.

    Care about what you do.
  10. Walter Burns

    Walter Burns Member

    Don't overwrite.
    It's easier said than done, I know, but it's invaluable. If you're covering something dripping with drama, just step out of the way and let your story tell itself. You can do more harm than good.
  11. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    If you're on this board, I'm presuming you're sentient, and reading anyway.

    So my advice:

    99% of the time it ain't magic, it's craft. Recognize this.

    Once you do, recognize something else: When you write, you're drawing upon not only your understanding of the language, but your life history, influences, knowledge of culture, of the subject at hand, emotions, whether you ate too much earlier, whether you're drunk, hungover etc. The smallest stories, the biggest stories - these little things matter or affect your work positively and negatively. Be honest and objective with yourself. Not every day. Just every so often. Review what you've done and who you are as a writer. Often, that person isn't quite the person everyone else knows.

    Find out what kind of writer you are. Know what you do well and what you don't. Seek out writers who do the same and the opposite. Learn from their triumphs and mistakes and don't take their work personally or to heart - treat it as a text.

    Learn how to analyze text and do this by learning English, the way you should have learned it in high school. Don't flatter yourself and think you know that much; most of us don't. Get a couple style books; I'm not a shill for any one of them, so just buy what suits you. Become a critical reader. Write a little review of their work, just to yourself.

    Don't forget the 1%. Absorb language through experience or other senses. Assign each letter of the alphabet a color you deem most appropriate for it. Dead serious. Do the same with words. Find the most soothing noise to you and write the letters to it. Imagine the laugh of a woman you love - how is it spelled? Or the scent of a man. From these exercises, create frames of mind. Tell yourself: I want this scene to read the way a hot shower feels. I want this scene to taste rotten. Etc, etc. It may sound nuts, of course, but a good writer must begin to put these things together, to create a mood, to immerse themselves so deeply in the experience that, when they emerge from it, they have written something that approximates the experience, or could, with editing. Some believe the muse only visits, I say you can draw it if you connect senses together.
  12. goalmouth

    goalmouth Active Member

    Less is more, I learned early on.

    And, as an editor at a daily told me, "It's just filler between the ads."
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