A fix for when I have a lot to say

When I graduated from high school two-and-a-half-ish years ago, I had to give a speech. Having had an … interesting … four years, I had it in my head to say something deep and profound.

So I sat at my computer and poured all the beautiful thoughts I could think of onto a Word document and gave a draft to my junior English teacher.

A couple of days later, I talked to him about it. It was too long.

So I chopped it in half and brought it back. It still needed to be shorter.

During the editing process, he told me about a scene from the movie “A River Runs Through It.” (No, I’ve never seen the movie, although I did go back recently and watch the scene.)

Basically, this kid narrates how his dad educated him. There’s a shot of him writing an essay that he brings to his father. The dad looks over it, crossing out lines and making red marks. He hands it back to his son and tells him, “Half as long.” So the kid goes back, rewrites it, and takes it back to his father.

“Again, half as long.”

(If you’ve seen the movie/scene, it ends with the father telling his son, “Good. Now throw it away.” Thankfully, this last interaction isn’t the point of the anecdote.)

This scene, as well as the interaction with the English teacher that I associate it with, have been on my mind for the last week or so as I’ve written the next draft of my profile.

Last week, I sat on my back porch and pounded out a new draft. I wrote my nut graph, pruned my flowery magazine passages, cut everything that didn’t pertain to the nut graph, went back through my reporting to find the information to fill out the nut graph, wrote subheads for the first time in months and went to bed with a new story.

The new draft is certainly different. But it’s also much stronger as a news piece.

Again, half as long.

Apparently, it’s gotten to be in pretty good shape. So early next week, I’ll be working with Shaina (my ACE last semester) to try and finalize the draft.

There’s a part of me that misses my old story. But I know my new one is far better suited to the Missourian.

Like when I sat with my English teacher as an 18-year-old with too much to say, I’ve cut everything down to the heart of the matter so I can best tell the story to my audience. No almost high school graduate would have wanted to hear me ramble until the good points I had got lost in the random details. Someone picking up a newspaper wants a more focused, news-oriented story than someone pulling a magazine out of their mailbox.

It’s about the audience. I’ve got to write (or speak) to tell the truth with respect to my readers. I’ve got to focus in the way they need me to focus to get the real point across. And that looks different from medium to medium.

It’s also about the editor. My intermediate writing class has taught me that every story needs a good editor. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been reporting, I will always need another pair of eyes to see things I can’t and make sure the story is what it needs to be. When I was 18, I needed my English teacher to tell me, “These are the things that you’ve written that are good. Keep them. Throw out the superfluous stuff” (a paraphrase of his ideas). And now and as a beginning journalist, I need editors to give me advice so my story best suits my audience. I need people like John Fennell, who can get my story up to par for a magazine, and I need people like Liz Brixey (with a shout out to Shaina) who can tell me when I’m being too wildly abstract for a newspaper.

This has been a rather interesting learning experience, one that’s left me with far more perspective than I had when I started this story. I’ve learned, very tangibly, the difference between news and magazine. I’ve learned I can do either if I want. I’m starting to understand why they’re different, and why and how my writing needs to look different for each one. And while I will always give my best to what I write, I have people behind me to make sure I get my reporting where it needs to be.

I’d say not bad for one story.

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