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Looking for some advice ...

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by housejd, May 27, 2007.

  1. housejd

    housejd Member

    Hey all,

    I'll be a senior in college next year, and I've spent the past three years working for my campus newspaper, freelancing and interning. I've written a good bit about college sports and with success.

    I've covered profile sports in a high profile town. I cover college basketball for a local daily with a circulation of roughly 100,000. So, it's not like I'm inexperienced for my age.

    But lately, in the past year or so, I've discovered that my writing and reporting has become more difficult, almost like I'm stuck with some sort of writers' block that I just cannot shake.

    Usually, leads for gamers, sidebars, etc., all came very easily to me. As soon as I left the stadium, I knew exactly how I wanted to start the story and end, with all the details in between. Midweek features weren't a problem, either. I'd go to practices, dig up interesting features for midweek projects, etc.

    Now, while I've continued to write what I believe are serviceable stories, something just seems to be missing. The hook's not there. I'm not sure sometimes where I want to take a story. Things like that.

    I'm not happy with what I'm producing, and it's a stark change to the past when I'd get up from the computer, excited to see my stories the next day.

    I've tried lots of stuff, reporting more, digging up more details. Always calling that one extra person to get a new angle, but it's still coming hard for me.

    As far as regular news stories, I'm doing OK. I've reported on lawsuits, resignations, player dismissals, etc., and the breaking news stuff seems to be alright. It's just when I get to working on those features now, or those gamers on tight deadlines that I'm starting to struggle.

    I know I want to be in this business, and I want to be good at it.

    I was just wondering if anyone else has experienced something similar early in their careers, and what you've done to help yourself?

    I'm doubting that there's a quick fix to this, and maybe it's more in my mind than anything else, but I'm definitely getting frustrated.

    Any suggestions?
  2. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Mr housejd,

    Fear not. Your worries are common. All writers go through slumps. Or what they feel are slumps. Even the best of us. They are not permanent. When I am struggling (and I currently feel like I'm struggling), I make certain that I feed my brain with language. How much are you reading? Are you reading for pleasure? Are you reading your work aloud to yourself after the fact? Are you agonizing too much because you want each feature to live up to expectations that are nearly impossible?

    Go to your bookshelf and find your favorite book. Or something from your favorite author. Find a quiet place and read a few pages. Perhaps even read them aloud. What about the language do you like? What moves you? Now sit in front of a computer and type it, word for word. Repeat entire paragraphs and pages if necessary. It's a good exercise to feel the meter and rhythm of good sentences.

    Writing is hard because you care. Take pride in that. Self doubt can fuel you as much as it can befuddle you.

    As for features, I pass along something Mr. Jones has shared several times here about his own work. Know what your ending will be before you start writing. Everything in your story should build to that moment, making the payoff worth the time it took to get there. If you're not sure where you want to take a story, think backward. Start at the end, not the beginning.

    Read the suggested professional readings listed in the stickied threads above you, and pay close attention to the advice of Mr. jgmacg and Mr. Jones on this thread here (linked below), where each of them tried to help me through my own disappointments and frustrations in The Writer's Life. In time, and with a little elbow grease, the words shall flow again for us both.

  3. housejd

    housejd Member

    Thanks, I appreciate the feedback, Double Down.

    I've read a lot of the Best American Sportswriting series, ESPN The Magazine features, Esquire features, etc., but I've never tried writing them out to get the feel for the words. That's a good idea.

    I'm just anxious for my next opportunity to cover something. My internship doesn't start for another week, and I've got nothing scheduled for this week in regards to freelancing. Perhaps a trip the book store is in order.
  4. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    New opportunities will also present a chance to grow and stretch your writing legs. Seek out the best writer(s) at your internship, and ask them if you can buy them a cup of coffee or a beer. Poke their brain. Ask them how they approached a certain story, and why they chose to go in a specific direction. Then push yourself to take risks and look at things differently. The best thing about college is that you can be fearless with your words because the embarrassment when you fail is minimal.

    Lastly, with a year left in college, if you haven't already, take a creative writing class. Take a poetry class. Don't limit yourself to the best non-fiction out there. Soak up as much knowledge and as much of the language as you can, and each week, make it a goal to read something you normally wouldn't give a second glance. Read your own work aloud, whether it's in a basement by yourself, behind a microphone, or to a friend or a ladyfriend. You'll notice things you never did previously.
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