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Your journalism mental blocks

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by forever_town, May 13, 2008.

  1. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    Hopefully, this isn't a d_b of Jones's "Stories that have broken you" thread...

    I'm sure a lot of us have certain aspects of our jobs we just don't do as well as other elements. There's the person who can effortlessly write a 17,000 takeout (hi Jones!), but struggles with hard news writing on deadline. There's the person who can whip out a 450-word gamer almost at rote who just can't seem to write a season preview to save her life.

    For me, it's feature writing. I feel fairly comfortable with writing hard news, the inverted pyramid, all of it. I enjoy the challenge of writing gamers and trying to make them a little less routine each time. I love writing opinion pieces. But have me try to write a feature and I hit a mental block.

    Let me take you back to 1991. I was asked to write a feature on the guy who just took over as the editor of my community college's literary magazine. Admittedly, I was very new to journalism (it was my freshman year in college and I had scant high school student newspaper experience), and at that point, I'd only written somewhat newsy stories. Writing a feature was a completely different animal for me, and it showed in my copy. It was poorly written.

    I think had to write a feature for my media writing class at the college, which was taught by the newspaper advisor. I don't think I did so well at that, either. You may be thinking, "it's just two stories, f_t. Get over it, geez!" But those two stories gave me a mental block about writing features that exists to this day.

    Granted, I've written some features that have been well-received since those early days. However, I still can't help banging my head against a wall and thinking I suck worse than Dean Singleton laying off yet another staffer when I write a feature. In fact, I was so dreading one particular feature I wrote about two kids who play tennis in my county that I didn't feel comfortable posting it at the Writer's Workshop. That's how bad I felt about that story. And that's in spite of my reporter praising it (she copyedits on production days).

    Any advice on overcoming a mental block like that?
  2. editorhoo

    editorhoo Member

    I have the same block, sometimes, when it comes to features, and I've found out why.

    The old saying goes, "Write about what you know" and if it's a feature about someone or something you don't know about or haven't observed the person doing what you have to write about, it can be tough, especially if you're a visual person like me.

    Therefore, I try to only do feature stories on subjects I have seen.

    Example — We cover 13 football teams, but I only see about two on a consistent basis, so I would only do a feature on one of those teams. I could never do a feature on a team I only see once all year.
  3. Babs

    Babs Member

    This is true, but you can also reach a point that you know so much about something that it's hard to stop writing. You want to put every bit of info in there. I know, that's a lesser problem than not knowing enough, but it can still be a stumbling block.

    Me, I get too caught up in side drama behind the scenes. I need to just not worry about that crap and focus on my pieces.
  4. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    I can't write refer boxes to save my life. I've written 50-, 60-inche features easier than I write a refer or an info box.
    When I work the desk, the worst part of my day is when the news editor bellows out, "Batman! Got a refer?"
    My asshole tightens up faster than a new neighbor around a certain SJ poster. I've gotten into the habit of just stammering out the basics of our main story and just letting her take it from there.
  5. dargan

    dargan Active Member

    I'm pretty much the same way. As bad as it sounds, I don't like writing human interest stories. Those are the stories that give me the most problems because I just don't enjoy writing them.

    I'd much rather write a huge feature about Xs and Os and the science of a sport than about a kid struggling with an illness, etc.
  6. Stone Cane

    Stone Cane Member

    you've got to be kidding
  7. editorhoo

    editorhoo Member

    We'll, there's several facts listed here. Which one is your comment referring to?
  8. Trey Beamon

    Trey Beamon Active Member

    Three years in, I still struggle with nightly deadlines.

    And while it's a necessary evil, I've never cared for writing hard news.
  9. jlee

    jlee Well-Known Member

    I couldn't write a good opinion piece to save the world.
  10. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    InDesign. It takes me half an hour longer to get off the floor. With Quark, I was done and could get to the pub in time to catch a buzz. InDesign is much more labor-intensive.
  11. TheMethod

    TheMethod Member

    I'm not a people person. I can't schmooze at all. I'd be a better beat writer if I could.
  12. jfs1000

    jfs1000 Member

    I can do everything -- great on deadline, excellent news writer, can nail a feature story and takeout of any length and deadline. Versatile. but....

    I have two issues. One is being funny in print. By all accounts I am funny in person and can make people laugh. I have a care free spirit and I am breezy and comfortable in person.

    But, I can't write funny. I just can't do it. I am not clever with the written word. I am dramatic, eloquent, and am at my best when things are serious. But, give me an off beat story that should be funny and not so serious and it comes out dry. I can write drama and narrative,excellent with analysis and good at sharp criticism.

    But, a major weakness of mine is funny. You need to be funny and sarcastic in print and I struggle with that.I am working on it, but I can't seem to let myself go.

    The other thing is I can't self-edit. It's a mental block. Unless I walk away from the story for 30 minutes, which many times you don't have that luxury, I really struggle cleaning up my work in a second read through. Getting better at that though.

    Some feature writing tips --- Try and put a picture into words. I always meet with a feature story subject in person if I can. Go watch practice, talk to friends and colleagues for background.

    The first question you ask before your writing is why you are doing the feature? Then, find an interesting part of your subject to concentrate on. Get specific in your feature and don't write a biography of the subject.

    Don't use a formula. And remember,don't force it. Best advice I ever received was from a teacher: "You are never better than your material."
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