As I’m reaching the last month or so of the semester, I’ve found myself starting to go into introspective mode. Basically, I sit around and try to come up with profound things to say about life and being a journalist. And while there are moments when I wonder if there are better uses of my time, on the whole, I enjoy the chance to look back and think through how I’ve been growing. I think it helps me figure out how to best move forward.
What’s been on my mind in my journalism classes for the last few weeks is this:
I’m a lot more normal than I sometimes think I am.
Some of the most reassuring moments I have had as a journalist are when I’ve read someone’s reflections or listened to someone speak, and they’ve talked about the hard parts of reporting.
Some tidbits I’ve gleaned from listening to reporters who are vastly more experienced than me:
- A number of journalists are introverts.
- There are other reporters who are convinced that every story they write is going to be the one that doesn’t work out.
- Even people who have been in the business for years have to write multiple drafts of stories before they get it right.
- Even if you’ve been writing forever, sometimes your first draft will just suck. And that doesn’t mean you are any worse for it.
- It is, in fact, uncomfortable to walk up to people who don’t know you and ask them to tell their story.
- I’m not the only person who has to fight not to lose sleep every time I publish a story.
- People who have been writing for years still have editors completely change parts of their story.
For a while, I guess I struggled with having it in my head that I had to fit a specific mold to be a reporter. Said mold meaning that I never make a single mistake, that I pull everything off with perfect, unwavering confidence, that I never get nervous again, that I always know how to perfectly structure every story every time, that I reach a point where everything always goes perfectly smoothly and I always have all the answers
I had this idea that I couldn’t be myself and go into journalism, because real journalists always know what they are doing and have this infinite wealth of knowledge that allows them to ask the one question that disarms the the corrupt political giant and saves the town from certain doom. At which point, said imaginary journalist tilts his fedora over his eyes just enough to give off an air of confident intrigue complimented by the expensive trench coat, the notebook and pen in his pocket and the cigar hanging loosely between his teeth.
And while I may only be 21 years old, I can tell you that I have yet to meet a journalist who is anything like this.
I think for a long time, I had this idea of what I was supposed to be, and this kept me from doing a couple of things. First, it kept me from actually improving, because I was so busy hiding all the things I needed to improve in an attempt to look like I always knew exactly what I was doing. Second, it probably made me put myself down a lot because I was so aware that I didn’t always know exactly what I was doing.
But what I’m finding out in talking to people and hearing from other journalists with way more experience than me is that I’m actually pretty normal. I get nervous about my stories sometimes. I worry that things won’t work out. I turn in crappy first drafts.
My intermediate writing class has taught me a lot about this over the semester. For a while, I would read all these famous stories that spent pages and pages describing beautifully explicit detail, and then I would look at my drafts and tell myself how awful they were that I just wasn’t cut out for this.
And then I started realizing that there’s a pretty simple solution to first drafts — writing a second one. And the second ones are a lot better. They are for most people. The third ones are even better than that. They are for most people. And once all the drafts are done, there’s always the next story. Which is better than the one you wrote before, because now you know more.
This is normal.
I’m in the process of doing a third draft for my profile, and you know what?
I’m proud of it.
Because it shows that I am improving. And that I have improved. A lot. Even if improvement meant accepting that the first draft needed work and allowing that to help me make the second one a lot better.
This is normal.