Welcome to the last section of the “How Good Writing Happens” series!
New to the block? Read the first few installments here:
- Introduction: How Good Writing Happens
- Editing the Editor: Why Every Writer Needs a Critic
- Be a Reading Writer
For the last two years of my tenure as a undergraduate university student, I became the black sheep of the journalism department. It began with news writing and snowballed during copy editing the following semester. Why would I subject myself to a class with so many blue-inked F’s scribbled on quizzes when I didn’t have to? I kept my mouth shut to avoid pariah status, but I loved that class. And as I continued to score remarkably well on our tests, I snickered to myself as they whined over having to complete another edit. Suckers.
Two more classes followed in the spring of my senior year. Every few weeks or so, my professors would raise an eyebrow and ask, “Are you sure you’re not a journalism major?” Nope. English all the way. And I loved completing my English major. But I would not have been the same, successful English major I grew to be if I had not taken so many journalism courses in the brick building across the quad.
Journalism teaches its students how to…
Find and compose interesting stories
As a journalist, you have the opportunity to write pieces that are obviously fascinating stories in and of themselves, and stories that have the potential to be fascinating if the writer can find something of interest among the drek and mumbo-jumbo. With this skill in your toolbox, you can find the glimmer of light in any topic.
I spent much of my secondary education writing run-on sentences filled with more adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases than any normal person would want to wade through while searching for a point. And much of the time, I wrote that way to disguise the sad fact that there wasn’t one. While a great high school English teacher taught me to cut out the crap, college-level journalism illustrated the value of each and every word. When space comes with a premium, you have to be picky about which words you choose to tell your tale. While it certainly makes the task more challenging, it also produces a much worthier product.
“Transitions are important.” It’s something my English teachers had always told me, circling the disappointing sections where an in-between bit would have served my essay rather well. It wasn’t that I didn’t try to do it better. Something just hadn’t clicked. Secondly and thirdly and so on just didn’t sound good. So I would lose myself in rambles trying to get from one point to the next, adding a page or so on the way. I seem to have mastered the subtle art of transitions and along with it, the exact science of quote inclusion. It’s not even a challenge anymore; it’s second nature. When you have to pay attention to word count and someone is constantly crossing out whole sentences, you learn that you want to spend your allowance on the things that count rather than the stitches that hold the piece together. In journalism, everything counts. There is no waste. Not so in academic writing. All writing benefits from starving itself of unnecessary verbiage.
It’s all important–the criticism, the by-the-book education, the concision lessons. All of it has brought me to this point, the point at which good writing happens. Now, I want to hear from you. What’s made you the writer you are today?