It took me several minutes of writing, rewriting, deleting, procrastinating and downright ignoring this sentence to finally start this post.
My point? Writing is hard.
On Monday, I sat down with my editor to talk about a story I’d be working on this week. We were hoping for a quick, straightforward story I could knock out quickly to focus on some longer stories I’ll be tackling over the next few weeks.
My instructions: Make a few calls, put something short together. Oh, and try to write with a bit of poetry.
The story turned out to be a little less straightforward than we thought, but I managed to pull together enough information to write a decent piece. I spent several minutes hammering out the lede, writing and rewriting and trying to find that bit of poetry. But at the same time checking and rechecking every detail to make sure it was just right. Eventually I found the words I was looking for.
Unfortunately, they were harder to find the further down I got in the story, and my editor and I ended up hammering out a few places where the writing felt too flat. The poetry just wasn’t there.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning since I first started reporting is how to write well. While I understand that good writing is always a product of good reporting, sometimes even with good reporting, writing is still difficult.
Some of that is just because writing in general is hard. Some of it is because writing in journalism, where the writing not only has to be good but also 100 percent accurate, is even harder .
At times, this has proved particularly challenging for me. One of my strengths as a journalist is that I’m careful with my reporting and writing. I’m always verifying, always double-checking, always making sure I’ve got it just right. However, that means that I have at times ended up just throwing down the words that will get me to deadline without being inaccurate, rather than composing each word and sentence with care. Call it my journalist’s bad habit.
Part of the problem is that sometimes my thinking can be too black and white. There are facts, and then there’s poetry. And in my mind, it’s hard to mix the two.
But I’ve been learning over the past couple of years that maybe they aren’t as different as I think. In fact, good journalism tends to happen when the two are working together.
It’s a tough discipline for me to learn, but I’m working on it. Writing is still tough, but over time, the words start to flow without as much work. The poetry becomes easier to see.
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