Drafting, drafting, 1, 2, 3…

Three weeks. Plus finals.

That’s what I have left before I close out the semester.

My emotions? A cross between excitement and anxiety. I’m ready to be done with the craziness of 17 hours of classes and way too many things to do. As strange as it sounds when I admit it, I think I’m excited to be back in the newsroom this spring. But I’ve got quite a lot do to before I can put down my notebooks and sell my textbooks. By my reckoning, I still have two papers, a presentation, a short story revision, a final project, a test, two finals, a final draft of my intermediate writing story and another short story for the class.

I’m trying to take it one assignment at a time right now. Also, Thanksgiving break will mean academic lockdown as I desperately try to get a handle on the online class I’ve been neglecting.

But in spite of all my conflicting emotions about the future, I have a lot to be excited about right now. Especially with my intermediate writing class. Yesterday, I turned in a fourth draft of my profile.

Let me say that again. A FOURTH DRAFT.

That’s not a bad thing. Honestly, it’s much better than when I started writing the story, when I turned in the first draft and wondered if I had any idea what I was doing. I’ve started to get excited about how it’s looking, how far it’s come since that first draft.

The truth is, I’m not sure that I’ve ever spent this much time writing anything. I guess I spent a while on the gun culture story, but I split that up with my co-reporters, making it much less labor-intensive. I also had a much smaller understanding of what it meant to do longer-turn journalism, so while each draft improved, I feel like each draft didn’t change substantially enough for me to really see it grow.

But this profile has been more than a month of pounding the pavement — interviewing, writing, editing, re-writing, re-interviewing, researching, describing, observing, drafting, re-drafting, re-drafting, re-drafting. This has probably been one of the most labor-intensive writing processes ever for me, at least in my recent memory.

But it has been oh so good.

By seeing the story through this far, I’ve had the chance to watch myself improve a lot. By looking at the differences between my drafts, I can understand what works and what doesn’t work when using more narrative storytelling techniques. I can start to see how to fill in holes in a story, how to get a focus that both tells everything and has enough of a news focus to make it something people would read. How to really think about structure and realize how important it is. There are pages in my reporting notebook and random scribblings in my notes for other class with ideas to pursue and questions to ask and ways to build the story. I have hours and hours of interview audio on my iTunes. Pages and pages and pages of notes from said interviews.

When I was at the Missourian last semester, I think the longest I ever spent doing intense work on a story was maybe a week. There might have been a couple of stories that were assigned to me for longer, but the actual intense period of reporting was usually no more than the equivalent of a few days. And then I would write a draft, frantically make some accuracy check calls, and then sit with an editor for hours on end, biting my nails as I thought through everything I was afraid would go wrong.

And now, after pushing myself and my story farther than I ever thought possible, I’m starting to be able to say that I’m proud of my work, that I feel like I’m really growing as a journalist. That I feel more confident in my writing. That I’m finally starting to like this whole longer-turn, narrative style journalism thing.

It’s a good feeling.

And I’m stoked to see where this story goes next.

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