What you need to know about writing (as told by my former professor)

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Although being a reporter on deadline can be stressful, sometimes newspaper reporters, photographers and editors get a break to be recognized for their hard work.

Saturday I attended the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation Better Newspaper Contest banquet. I didn’t personally snag an award this year but two of my coworkers did and our newspaper received third place for “Best Online Site/Webpage,” for a total of six awards.

Before the awards luncheon however, I was able to have a one-on-one coaching session with an editor as well as attend two workshops. One of the workshops was with a former professor and editor of mine.

I forgot how good she was as what she does. She commands attention, has humor and teaches something to everyone she speaks to.

Her workshop was called “5 things I learned about writing (After I thought I knew it all).” She makes the point that after college we all have that moment we think we know everything and then we find (usually abruptly) we don’t.

1.) It all starts with a great idea 

It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and do something that comes easy to you. She noted that people will grow the most by “constantly do a story you believe is beyond you.”

She also noted when you finally do challenge yourself to do something bigger, the difficulties will frustrate you because you’re used to being the expert at what you do.

2.) Concrete words can transport reader into your story

Using concrete words will not only allow readers to easily follow the story, but it will also paint a picture. 

“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific words or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent…” -George Orwell

Your not dumbing it down, your finding the right, short words, she said.

3.) “Direct quotes are seriously overrated” 

I struggle on this one. Sometimes I quote people too much. She reminded me that quoting isn’t great story telling and should be used to add to the story, not carry it.

4.) Nobody writes a great first draft 

She said writers have to lower their standards, get something on-screen and then they’ll have more time to polish it.

Many writers have said a different version of this. Hemingway is by far my fave saying, “The first draft of anything is shit.” 

5.) Your words have great impact 

Be accurate, fair, balanced and consider the impact of your words. You have an obligation to do the story justice.

She reminded us our words have an impact and before we publish something, we should think of that impact. If it passes that, it’s okay, she said.

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