The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

In chapter 4 of “Coaching Writers,” Clark and Fry list traits of good writers with the techniques an editor can use to get the best from writers. What traits do you share with good writers, or what positive traits do you have that aren’t listed? What negative traits do you have as a writer?

(These traits are different from our idiosyncrasies, which act to put us in the proper frame of mind to  be creative.)

Let’s keep these brief: three grafs tops. Be sure to comment on others’ posts, too, in addition to posting your own response.

Monday/Wednesday class, please post by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Tuesday/Thursday class, post by 6 p.m. Wednesday.


96 responses to “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

  1. In a lot of ways, I’m an awful writer. I procrastinate, have an awful memory, find writing things that don’t interest me not only painful but pointless, so often do a pretty crap job on them.

    But that being said, I’m curious, which Clark and Fry suggest is good; I’m certainly quirky, can be a perfectionist, and compensate for my bad memory with notes and (ideally) video camera/photography. (Only way I can get the visual details right, cameras.) I have a very well defined point of view.

    On the other hand, though, these good qualities mean I have a hard time “reeling in” my writing, sometimes, and making it clear and concise and, well, reasonable, by journalistic standards.

    I think this has bothered editors/teachers in the past.

    • Ah, so you’re a visual person. I love visual people, because they always think outside of the box. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is visually. I love photography myself and have been doing it for years now. The story a good picture can tell oftentimes will outweigh 500-700 words on a page, especially in the Internet world. Certainly don’t be down on yourself for being an “awful writer,” though. I’m sure, like all good writers, you’re simply being melodramatic. 🙂

    • I feel the exact same way about stories I’m not interested in. And the worst part is that in order to get to the point in life where you can be choosy about what you write, you have to write tons of stuff you don’t care about. Although recently I’ve had to write about something I actually care about and find interesting and it was harder than I thought. Maybe I’m just out of practice after being gone for so long. I am also a perfectionist and very critical of my writing which is frustrating because only once in a blue moon do I feel like my writing is perfect.

      • A professor once told me that the hardest things to write about are things you know. Too bad the things you know are usually the things you’re interested in and want to write about. How frustrating is it that you have to struggle writing about things you’re not interested in, and then when you can finally write about what you like, those things are tough to write about too?

      • Emily, you’re right. It’s frustrating that you would have so much information about things you’re interested in that you find it hard to focus on just one aspect of that. But I think acknowledging the problem of writing about you’re not interesting is also very crucial. I guess, instead of thinking that the topic is boring, we can think of how we can make the reader care about this topic instead – and write it with that purpose in mind. OK, so the story might not interest you, still, but what interesting about it was the challenge you’re going through while writing it. I hope that makes sense.

    • I feel the same way about “reeling in” when I write as well. I am trying to convince myself it isn’t such a bad thing though. I mean I would always like to have too much to work with than not enough. It just comes back down to the f-word…Focus. Too bad it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

  2. I agree with Nicolas on some things. I have some bad writing habits. I do tend to procrastinate and I definitely have problems writing stories that don’t interest me personally. To me, writing a piece that I have no interest in is like a hundred degree summer day. I don’t feel like doing anything, I am completely lethargic, and for the most part I just hate life at that particular point in time.

    On the other hand I do share some of the traits that the authors list as desirable in a good writer. I spend the most time on the lead. I used to completely stink when it came to writing leads or introductions, but I learned to save them for last. By saving them for last, the creative juices in my brain are usually firing and it’s just a whole lot easier. When I write shorter pieces, I often spend as much time writing the lead as I do writing the entirety of the story.

    The other trait of good writers that I most identify with is the “bleed” rather than “speed” method of writing. I am insanely critical of my own writing. For this reason, writing first drafts is often a painstaking process. I find that I will write an entire sentence, delete it, and then rewrite it with the words in different order. This process continues for nearly every sentence I write.

    Along similar lines, I constantly struggle to keep my writing fresh. Reading pieces that use similar wording over and over again makes me want to pull my hair out. As a result, I almost always write with a thesaurus by my side. My thesaurus is my best friend, and greatest enemy. It’s a terrific asset, but it slows the process exponentially.

    • I love the part where you talk about your thesaurus being your best friend and greatest enemy. Isn’t that the truth? Once I turned in a piece to my editor with the word “conurbation” in it. Found the word in the thesaurus and was very proud of myself. But does anybody on God’s green earth know what the heck a “conurbation” is?

      • Jeff–I loved how you compared writing about something you’re not interested in as a hot summer day. I feel the same way! I’m not a procrastinator. I have always prided myself in getting things done way before they need to be turned in. However, I feel the same way you do about writing about things I don’t care about. That situation is usually the one and only time I drag my feet to my computer. I usually start homework looking forward to all of the free time I will have after I get my work done. When I have to write about things I’m not interested in, I only start the work after I have used up every ounce of free time possible.

      • Um, can you use it in a sentence? I don’t mind when a writer sends me to the dictionary occasionally. George Will often sends me scurrying to my Webster’s. I like learning new words. What I don’t like is writers who use big, pretentious words just be sound important. Use unfamiliar words occasionally, but use them because they’re the *best* word.

    • Jeff,

      Your “hundred degree summer day” analogy is such a vivid description of what you feel. I feel that way at the start of something I’m not interested in. However, once I get started, I actually can write more quickly and better in general about a topic that is new or not quite my ‘thing.’

      This way, I’m exposed to something I normally wouldn’t be, and by nature, I am very curious to learn more about the world around me. In my writing about something I previously did not have a passion for, I am even more excited than usual to make the reader care about what I’m writing.

      I’m writing something I enjoy, I still strive to make it the best it can be, but maybe I’d describe it more like the first day of spring.

      • Lots of you have expressed dismay at having to write about topics that are uninteresting. But unless you’re working for yourself, you’re going to have to — and often. When I complained one time to an editor that a story idea was boring, he shot back: “It’s your job to make it interesting!” After that, I took it as a challenge to make dull stories interesting.

  3. Sometimes I find myself writing down a million facts and quotes, but not so many sensory details. I’m very wordy. I tend to write too much. Then I have to go back through and delete large parts of my paragraphs, or delete whole paragraphs entirely. But I’m curious and I always have lots of questions, which are traits of good writers.

    It’s always really hard for me to narrow down my focus. But once I have that focus I’m ready to write. I like to brainstorm and write individual sections according to each idea in my brainstorming session. I definitely prefer to write my paper in separate paragraphs than to start writing the piece from top to bottom. I write it in chunks first. I rearrange those chunks into the order I like most and then I tweak the transitions until I get a fluidity I like.

    • Have you ever tried outlining? It tends to get the focus and details out of the way first and then you can let your writing really flow. I completely understand where you are coming from, though–I’m a horribly verbose writer.

      • I always thought of outlining as very middle school, and I have always tried to avoid it. I always thought of it as a waste of time. But I recently discovered just how helpful an outline can be. Like you said, it’s a great way to organize your thoughts so that you can begin writing a paper from top to bottom. I hate writing ahead so I used to struggle with a blank screen every time I couldn’t come up with a lead. This can be frustrating when you know exactly what you want to say for the rest of your paper. But when you work on an outline, you give yourself more time to think. I bet once you’ve outlined a paper, you’ll have an idea for a lead in mind.

      • I also enjoying outlining out of any of the prewriting processes. I find that it’s a good way to lay out what you have and see what you’re struggling with in a visual manner. A chunk here, a line there, a quote, etc. It’s nice to see where you can elaborate, where you’re missing something, where flow is required, etc.

      • Outlining doesn’t have to be the formal, Roman-numeral-I-Letter-A kind of outlining. I call my outlining “chunking.” I group related information under category/topic headings, write it on a legal pad — and voila! — my “outline.” My middle school teachers would not approve.

    • I’m very much like you when it comes to trying to narrow down the focus of a story. It tends to be difficult for me at first as well. Also, writing your stories in separate paragraphs can be a really good thing!

      You seem to have a nice system in tact when it comes to brainstorming, writing, and organizing. A lot of writers are very unorganized which sometimes leads to choppy first drafts.

  4. Since every writer is different, it’s difficult to narrow down exact traits that make “a good writer.” That being said, I tend to really enjoy outlines as a way of organization. This way you get all the dirty little details out of the way, which ultimately will help with the flow of the writing process and make it more enjoyable.

    Writing should be effortless. Another good trait is freewriting. Granted, this usually means you have to go back and edit like crazy, but you’d be surprised what a good writer can accomplish with a little bit of freedom.

    Also, I think it’s necessary for any good writer to procrastinate. Everybody focuses on procrastination as a negative thing. It think of it as more of a process. It’s more like a fermentation process. By the time the words flow out of me–which may very possibly come 15 minutes before deadline–it’s like warm butter spread on a piece of toast. In short, perfection can be derived from procrastination. Now that’s not such a bad thing at all, is it?

    • I have to agree with you on your point on procrastination. I’m a procrastinator, I’ll admit it. But some of my best writing comes to me at 2, 3 in the morning (if I’m still awake) and I can write it down quickly and mostly have a story complete. It’s not like I just quickly type it in and say “Done!”, but when I’m rushed for time, it just encourages my brain to work faster.

      Maybe it’s an adrenaline rush, also, to have to write so quickly. I’m usually exhausted by the time I’m done writing, but it’s a good tired.

    • Mary Bess Bolling

      Matt – I totally agree with your organization process and then that writing should be effortless. I spend copious amounts of time in the pre-writing (fermentation) stage, then less than a quarter on typing the actual story.

      I do not think that perfection can always be derived from procrastination, but it can add the deadline pressure necessary to kick journalists into gear. Nice visual, by the way. I just saw my 14-inch Macintosh screen morph into a piece of golden Wonderbread while my cursor spread the butter. Wow.

    • I share your love of outlines. They are a great way to visually map out what ground you’ll cover, and allow you to be detailed without getting too bogged down. Outlines also help your story retain its focus; they are a great way to cover all sorts of business via categories, subcategories, roman numerals, letters, numbers…well, you get the picture.

      • You guys are wonderful and incredibly patient for outlining! It is a quality I wish I could make my self possess, but I cannot. However, I do enjoy having all of my quotes and some important facts typed up, which I guess is sort of an outline. But I get frustrated and bored when I have to plan out everything I want to say. Usually I just start writing a see where I end up. Might not be the most organized, but it gets the job done.

    • I am way too much of a perfectionist to free write. I wish I could–it would save me hours of agonizing over a couple of sentences. But then, I would also prefer to have it near perfect the first time instead of going back to edit.

    • I share your love of outlining. I can’t start an article without it… If I dive into an article without an outline, I lose sight of my focus, and go off on tangents in places where I should be providing the reader with facts and quotes. I tend to be a perfectionist though, so writing freely scares me!

      I like your point about procrastination being a good thing. Oddly enough I have had this thought before and even wished I could procrastinate at times. I usually get things done in advance, but when I do procrastinate, I find that I take more time doing “prewriting” and research and I actually end up with a better article. Oh, if I could only procrastinate more often!

      • I don’t write outlines either, Erin. I will type up the quotes and organize my notes, a.k.a make them more legible, but I don’t like writing outlines. I tend to just free write and once I’m done I go back and add details and organize it more.

    • “Fermentation.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    • From the day I met you, you’ve always been outlining! I really think this is beneficial to you, however. Your first drafts are always great and you can tell just by reading them that you are an organized writer. Every detail is always right in place.

  5. I am good at taking notes when I’m supposed to be. I don’t just do it randomly, but when I’m writing a story, I take okay notes. I spend a long time on the lead because it’s the hardest part for me. The beginning and end of stories are the hardest for me to write (and annoyingly the most important) so I spend the most time on that. I often lose myself in the material also. When I am writing I always need to talk it out with an editor or someone outside of the story so I don’t lose focus. Also I love reading. I certainly don’t have as much time as I would like to do so, but when I do have time I read as much as I can.

    What’s not listed about writers that I do enjoy and am good at is detail editing. I’m actually pretty good at grammar and AP style and if I’m not sure about something I enjoy looking it up.

    I am not good at seeing the world as a story nor do I have an eye for the offbeat. I definitely struggle with finding stories and things to write about. I also sometimes struggle with the initial translation of notes into paragraphs.

    • I also love taking notes. I sometimes get caught up in the minute details, so that’s something I need to work on. I don’t know that anyone will ever be proficient at thinking of story articles, but keeping an open mind and eye is so important. I’m realizing that although CNN may not be my favorite news provider, I still need to know what’s going on. (It’s my home page now.)

      Grammar trips me up more than actual AP style, but Working with Words is helping a lot, along with simple refreshers on those terms.

  6. I really see the world in story form. I just picture everything in the world as a story (mostly fiction stories, but now I’m starting to get that news eye for stories). The same way goes for when I read. I can visualize the story as if it was real life, especially if the story is very well written and descriptive.

    I also have to go with the trait that writers devour novels and movies. I am a bit of an independent movie freak, and I love to watch movies. I also love to read all the time, which for me usually comes in the way of fan fictions online. You’d be amazed at some people’s writing skills out there. I usually use these stories to get different ideas in how I can describe things in different ways to keep the reader engaged. I hope one day I’m as good as a writer as some others.

    • I think that seeing the world in “story form” is an important element of being a journalist or an editor. If you can’t think of events and things that happen in everyday life as potential news stories, it makes it hard to find news and come up with story ideas. News isn’t always going to be obvious and in your face. Sometimes a reporter or editor has to analyze or dig deeper into something to find out what the real story is.

  7. There were two on the list of traits good writers have that I believe I definitely share with other writers. “Good writers tend to write too long, and they know it.” If I were to explain my writing in my first and sometimes even second drafts, I would say it’s winded. As I’m typing out a story, I’m just trying to get all of my thoughts down before I loose them. I know when I’m being too wordy, using too much padding, and when I have most definitely gone over word count.

    But that’s ok. This brings me on to the next trait that I know I share with other good writers. “Good writers rewrite their rewrites.” Once I get everything down I know I can go back to create more of a focus. I would rather have too much to write about than not enough. Every time I read my writing—seriously I could read it a million times—I come up with things I want to change. My writing is never really over even after I have handed something in. There are always changes to be made.

    Here’s where the negative comes in. Sometimes, I just don’t know when to stop. I can drive myself crazy trying to make my writing perfect. Sometimes writers just need to know when a piece has reached its end—especially around deadline.

    • I also have the “long winded” trait. I actually laughed out loud when you said, “As I’m typing out a story, I’m just trying to get all of my thoughts down before I loose them.” I am the exact same way. At least you know this, and have embraced it. Keeping that in mind always helps me know when to stop.

    • I was just about to type almost exactly what Logan did; well said Logan!

      For me, the long-winded writing I do helps – I usually don’t miss much of the information that’s most important to me, and then I can tighten my text while not eliminating the necessary information.

      Again like Logan said, knowing this fact about myself helps me know when to stop writing and cut out the filler.

  8. Mary Bess Bolling

    I can only claim some of the writing traits that Clark and Fry list. I have the tendency to constantly write stories in my head. I’ll be walking on campus, see a squirrel carrying an apple (I really did see that Monday) or some other odd or newsworthy occurrence, and I’ll start to develop a lead. This habit began after my first Intro to Journalism class my freshman year in high school. After J54 with Tapscott I started subconsciously picking up on sensory details to show my experiences, not tell them. So if I’m walking around campus and you see me looking off into the distance, you can bet I’m formulating a vivid description of the cool breeze, the smell of leaves, the dark and sleek lines of Meredith, etc.
    One of my absolute favorite things to do is to ‘rewrite my rewrites.’ In a way, I do four drafts. Organizing the quotes and filling in the transitions takes the majority of my time, then the writing flies by. After my first copy is turned in I’m glad to have another set of eyes on it because I tend to think, “It’s done. It’s golden. Send it to print.” That thought usually doesn’t last through the lead. I’ll revise for style, organization, cut or enhance, then deal with the grammar.
    One inconsistency in Clark and Fry’s traits of good writers is that I typically don’t write too long. In fact, I’ve been known to write under the word limit. I’m working on the final trait they list of good writers: guiding the reader all the way through to the end of the story. Once I find the key to that, I’ll come back and be a journalism professor here and share my wealth of knowledge.

    • Constantly thinking of stories in your head is a fabulous trait to possess! It is something I have to force myself to do and that I am still working on.

    • It’s so important to report for scene, as well as for quotes and information. Our notebooks should be filled with sensory details — sights, sounds, smells, descriptions of all kinds. If we only have data and quotes in our notes, we’re not reporting thoroughly enough to generate the rich detail to make our writing come alive.

  9. I have some traits from the Clark and Fry list, but not as many as I would like. I, for some strange reason, seem to believe that waiting until the last minute to write something will some how make it better. Oh, if only it were true.

    I also feel like one trait on the list might not be such a good thing. I write long. The list says that is good, but I find it difficult to shorten pieces. And sometimes I walk away feeling like I didn’t get out everything I wanted to say.

    That being said, I do spend time on leads, immerse myself in a story, and love to tell stories. All good qualities if I may say so! I can also write a story on something that has no interest to me, as long as I feel it has interest to someone else. This seems to be my most unique skill and I have a feeling it may come in handy in the future.

    • I also have a hard time trimming my pieces. More times than not, I find myself way over the word limit, searching for things I can cut. And every time I hand something in, later that day I find myself thinking ‘Now why didn’t I say that?’

    • Most of the time, while saving everything until the last minute doesn’t exactly produce your best work, it forces a writer to prioritize with a story, and figure out what information he or she most wants his reader to know. Clark and Fry made it sounds like this trait was one of a good writer, but sometimes when I save things to the last minute, I’m not so sure.

      I also find it quite difficult to write on something that I don’t find remotely interesting. I can do it, but it would just be a pain. Since writing is something I’m pretty passionate about, I really don’t feel like my best work comes from an idea that I can’t either relate to or that I’m not interested in. Probably yet another one of my weaknesses as a writer…

  10. I take notes.
    Lots of them.
    For no easily identifiable purpose.

    On family vacations, I jot down interesting things I see out the window as we drive through the middle of nowhere. I’ll scribble the outrageous comment my roommate makes on a post-it. I have a word document of words I’ve heard other people use and want to remember.
    I have no idea what I plan to do with all these things, but for some reason when it comes to note taking I’ve gone the boy scout route and I’ll nearly always be prepared.
    Sometimes this means I need Mary Bess’s help cutting down my stories, or I get stuck trying to decide which quote to incorporate in my lead or ending. Overall however, I think Clark and Fry are right in that that collecting information “voraciously” is a good trait for a writer to have.

    Plus, if any of my roommates ever run for office or anything, I’ve got some great dirt on the dozen Post-its littering my bulletin board. 🙂

    • I also write about random things I see, and, more often than not, my writing occurs in a variety of places. Every so often, I open what I think is a new notebook for school, only to find a bit of free writing or sketching halfway through the pages.

      When I go on trips, I make travel journals. The back few pages are dedicated to stupid quotes that happened while traveling, usually courtesy of my father, and the rest of the journal is used to note the people we visited, places we saw, and discussions that took place.

      The best part is knowing that it’s entirely private…because no one can read my handwriting is like a twelve year old boy.

    • I had a friend in high school who did the exact same thing. She had a list of words on a notecard (which served as her bookmark) that she was continually adding to. In a way, I envied her passion and determination to use them at some point.

      Like you, I am also an avid Post-its user–and proud of it. I’ve got at least ten or twelve that I can think of stuck to my desk right now. I think that if you like taking notes, then deep down, (even if you don’t admit it,) you like to write.

    • I think having excessive information in the note is a pretty good thing. You know you’re paying attention. And if you don’t need it, then don’t use it. It feels much better than having a few scribbles on the page then you try to squeeze the non-existent information out of your head before deadline, right? Or even worse, after deadline, when you find yourself speechless amidst rapid fire of questions from your editor.

      And cutting down the story is much more fun that adding in information, don’t you think?

  11. Looking over chapter 4 again, I have to laugh a bit. As I mentioned when commenting on one of the previous blogs, I have to get my lead right (but I have to get it done first). While I know it doesn’t carry all the weight, I do place a lot of importance on it.

    I would also say I immerse myself in stories. I’ve done it for any number of assignments; I did it last night. I lose sleep, I sit and ask for opinions from fellow journalist roommates, I think about it as soon as I wake up. It stresses me out, but I think I enjoy being enveloped in work. I like knowing it’s that important to me.

    In that same vein, however, I can very easily lose myself in stories. When this is the case, I lose detachment–I leave out details because I forget how much I know versus how much an average reader will know. It should teach me to step back after the rush of finishing a story and come back later to read it fresh, after I’ve “found” myself again, or to be brave and let someone else do copy before I turn it in.

    • Matt Vasilogambros

      I am the same way with leads. I have to get it done. Today, for example, I was writing an article and I couldn’t concentrate for the best of me until I finished my lead. It’s anguish, really. Such is the life of a writer.

    • I have no idea how anyone can do leads first. I am so bad at them. Props to you!

  12. I love to read, and I always have. Whenever I’m reading a good book, I tend to think like the main character of the story, or examine my surroundings like the author might do. This exercise allows me to train my eye for detail, and to be flexible in my writing style.

    I also immerse myself in my writing, which can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that it’s such a priority and quality work will be produced, yet bad because there’s always other work to be done that can’t be placed on the back burner.

    One of my favorite things (okay, two) include collaborating with good editors and writing my rewrites, which were included on the “good” list. It’s nice to work with a fresh pair of eyes.

    • I can really relate to Allison’s first paragraph. I’ve always loved to read, and whenever I do, I always immerse myself fully in the book and pay close attention to tiny sensory details that are felt by the main character and other characters, and it helps me to remember how important these details are when I sit down to write.

      • Ann Schnoebelen

        To me, reading other writers is also a way to develop my own style. I try to notice the different elements that make their work unique and see if I can incorporate similar things into my own writing. In both novels and news columns I like to analyze the different voices use and see if there’s anything in particular that I admire.

    • I know many good writers, from all kinds of educations and backgrounds and styles. They all have only one thing in common: They read voraciously.

  13. I’d like to expand on Allison’s ideas about immersing yourself in the writing — for me, writing is a very visual thing. I don’t mean just the words on the screen or the grammar, but the pictures a writer creates in their stories.

    Sometimes being heavily descriptive is distracting, but occasionally it is very appropriate, such as the example in the text where a writer relates the appearance of a gangster preceding his trial.

    I also think a good quality of a writer is someone who knows how to prioritize. On busy news days, a writer has to be able to shove aside the smaller tasks they are responsible for to meet the all-important deadline.

  14. I think one of my greatest strengths as a writer is keeping to style and imitating my favorite writers’ styles. Usually at the very least I can make a story read well and sound good to the mind’s ear. I also think that I am good at transitions and determining what order to put information. I can usually get the flow of a story right.
    I think that one of my weaknesses is in laying out information. By that, I mean that sometimes I will write something and then simply explain it by rewriting it in a different way rather than actually explaining it.

    • Imitating another writer’s style is a great creative exercise. Could you write like David Sedaris? Hemingway? Maureen Dowd? It’s fun to experiment, and it often unleashes creative juices.

  15. I’m normally horrible at estimating the amount of time it will take me to write something before a deadline–and usually, I end up saving most of the work for the last minute–but as Clark and Fry mentioned, some writers are able to “speed” before a big deadline instead of going back and rewriting several drafts, and I consider myself to be one of those writers. Having said that, I’m horrible at outlines. I don’t like to write any more than a few words to organize what I’m talking about, and that’s one of my weaknesses as a writer. When I’m not rushing before deadline, it makes my drafts jumbled and confused, and I normally have to go back in and cut and paste different grafs in completely different places.

    One thing I really love doing when I write is telling a story: Clark and Fry also mentioned this as a good writer trait. While I don’t tend to write down every single sensory detail, I jot enough down in the interview that I can easily remember the setting later on when I’m writing–and I love to include those details in my piece. One of my biggest weaknesses, though, is not being able to easily find ideas for stories. Coming up with things to write about is a process I definitely struggle with, and I usually have to brainstorm for awhile before I come up with something that sounds remotely good to me.

  16. I love investing myself in a story. Sources are like puppies: I know it’s not good to get attached when you can’t keep them, but they’re just so much fun (usually). If I have to cut one out of my story it breaks my heart.

    Like Jeff, I know I’m a bleeder. I procrastinate as long as possible because I dread the agonizing writing process. But when I finally make the first cut the words just flow, and it’s really not that bad.

    I also love to experiment with style and voice. I like verbing nouns and finding out-of-the box ways to present a story.

    • Like Riane, I also become quite close with the people I choose to interview for my stories and hate having to cut them out. If they open up to me about something, then I feel obligated to share that information.

      I also have a hard time getting started on a new topic because it takes me awhile to find the right environment and to have a positive attitude simultaneously. It always helps me to sit down and type out a list of cognitives and focus points to help guide me before I attempt writing my first sentence.

  17. Erin Hogan (M/W)

    I think my strong suit as a writer is that I am very aware of different story ideas and can usually recognize what makes it relevant or “newsworthy.” I think once I learned what made something “news” I began to look at the world more like a journalist- interpreting items of interest I think people would like to read about.

    I also work very hard to rewrite when necessary. If something isn’t working, I move it around. Though I may not have perfect grammar, I always recheck a story at least five times after I’m done re-writing before I can call it done. (But, hopefully I can improve on my knowledge of what to look for through what we learn in “Working with Words.”)

    I wish I was “A bleeder, not a speeder.” I’m just slow, plain and simple. I do reach a point where I kind of hit a stride, but I don’t think I would deem that as “bleeding.” I also struggle to take chances. I don’t like making mistakes, I don’t like misconstruing facts, and I don’t like passing judgment on people. Often times this keeps me from taking big risks in my writing.

    • I am the same way with taking risks. Especially on profiles. I don’t want the person I’m writing about to read it and think it doesn’t show who they are. Like you said, I don’t want to pass judgment on them!

  18. In their book, Clark and Fry say that good writers “regard the title of ‘reporter’ with a badge of honor.” If this is the case, call me a bad writer — or reporter — because I’d rather refer to myself as a writer. I don’t know if there’s some negative connotation with “reporter” I’m trying to avoid, but the title of “writer” addresses the art of writing I most revere.

    This can be problematic; I get caught up in the wording (and get too wordy) and leave out or don’t get enough information in. My stories are often pretty for the first couple paragraphs, then fade off where I get too worn out to liven up the rest of the piece.

    I also can be a little shy…this makes it difficult to get the information I need. Returning to people to ask more questions is my biggest nightmare because I hate to bother them. This is something I definitely need to get over to be a good writer (reporter).

    • I definitely feel awful re-calling someone again to ask a question I probably should have asked the first time. I think that every good journalist has a problem with being “wordy”, (is that sometimes a blessing in disguise?) but I think that as long as word count is relatively stable, descriptive words are great! Unless you use over 5 adjectives to describe someone’s hair color, which you have yet to do. Re-writing and editing is part of the whole process; if writers were perfect the first time, editors would get bored really fast. 🙂

    • I would also prefer to be called a writer rather than a reporter! I don’t know what it is but to me writer just sounds better.

      I hate having to go back and ask more questions as well because I always think people are going to get annoyed since I had already interviewed them. I don’t know why because that isn’t usually the case.

      • Don’t fret when you have to call a source for clarification on something. They want you to have the correct information and get your story right. It’s certainly better than the alternative!

      • I’m often puzzled by this “reporter” vs. “writer” distinction. If you don’t report, what are you writing about? Often, students will say to me: “I don’t want to be a reporter. I just want to write!” At the risk of sounding flip, what will you write about? Yourself? I can’t think of a single example of good journalistic writing that isn’t rooted in outstanding reporting first. The best writers I know are, first and foremost, outstanding reporters. Help me understand this conundrum please!

      • When I think of reporting, I think of inverse triangle, one-sentence lead, black-white-and-read all-over writing. Not that that style of writing isn’t important and doesn’t have its place, but to me a writer is someone who has more artistic liberty when writing a piece. Writing is storytelling; reporting is regurgitating. But I do understand the importance of good reporting, of course.

  19. I’m a perfectionist at heart but always come up short as I can never be perfect. No matter how much I try to tweak, reorder, add and subtract from my writings, I still feel inadequate in the end as writing is never a finished product. One produces a final product, but the final product is the writer’s compromise of the best produced in the amount of time and effort inputted. Pieces can always be improved.
    Writers beat themselves ragged to produce a masterpiece, but they end up like women in the 1840s: even though the backbone of US economy from all they do, they are not a master of any one thing which allows a final product/masterpiece, so they settle with being the best in the small parts of everything.
    Due to the seriousness of never having a final piece like in other trades, writing is a hard thing to say, “I’m good at it.” In manufacturing, there are final products and with specific specifications; In Finance, there are projections and budgets for specific periods of time and for specific projects. As I’ve stated and continue to state, writing is a profession with no finished product, just products finished to satisfaction.
    I think a good writer knows when to quit as with any good art, too much ruins the piece.
    The big negative I possess is disorganization in note taking. When I get an idea, I don’t have a designated notepad for such ideas, but I write on assignment papers, folders, opened mail envelopes, cardboard boxes and anything else nearby when the idea arises. Even though note-taking is a good thing and positive for writers to do, I think the way I go about it can be improved with me carrying a small notepad from the time I get up to the time I go to bed.
    I still have yet to do so…

  20. Matt Vasilogambros

    As has been said earlier, when I come back to school and I get into the journalists mindset again, I become a relentless story finder. Even walking to class, I’ll find five or more story ideas. Every element of life is interesting and newsworthy in its own respect. That’s our job.

    What’s funny is that when the book says that good writers spend time on their lead, they mean a LONG time. That’s the way I am. I slave over the lead. It bothers me until its complete.

    (Sorry for being late, by the way. I was writing a story that the TD will break tonight online)

    • OK, so Matt, I’m jealous of you for being such a creative story hunter. Goodness, I wish I can do the same. But for me, nothing ever comes across as a potential story idea. I can definitely say that I suck at it. Oh, life.

  21. When I write, I have a few bad habits that I just can’t seem to shake. I’m not terribly confident, so I always write in a passive voice. I also resort to cliches more often than not. I often feel that there are no more original ways to express a thought, so a cliche only seems natural.

    As far as positive traits go, I always start my story way in advance of the deadline. I have never once been in a crunch to finish a story. I like to fuss over it and polish it, so I would never be satisfied if I left a story until the last second. (Unlike this blog post, which I unfortunately and ironically did leave until the last second.)

    • Cliches are so hard to avoid! And you’re right, it’s very difficult to come up with an original way to present an idea when there are so many readily available cliches out there. Whenever I find myself about to write one, I stop in the middle and try to think of a more creative way to say it, but it usually comes out anyway.

      While I try not to start my story during crunch time, I almost always finish it then. I like to have time to take a break from it and revisit my story. When the story’s due, there’s little time for that.

  22. Matt V.,
    Even though leads are important and take time to create, I leave them, many times, to the last. I write the story the way I see it the first go around and then read what I have. At which point, I insert and delete many parts, with interest of expanding the depth of the story.
    Seeing as you’re on the TD, and have been for many years, you know varying techniques of writing. So, by finalizing the piece the best I can, I then can create a lead that encompasses all the elements of the story.
    I usually have the lead before I start the piece, but if I have problems with thinking of one, I use the above technique to move past my block and save much time in the process. The quality of the lead is sometimes better than if I have and leave the one I had from the start.

  23. I have a substantive problem regarding my abilities as a writer – the majority of stories just don’t interest me in the least. Like many of you have already said, writing a story that has no personal relevance or interest is painstaking work.

    I’ve found another major issue to that same effect is regarding money. The first paycheck I ever received for my writing ruined me for school-related work. Now, if it’s simply for a grade, I can see my quality of work diminish noticeably. Sad, yes. But I see an easy solution: graduation.

    As for actual writing tendencies, if I don’t complete work early, and I mean way before deadlines, I’m screwed. I’m a terrible last minute guy, and if I’m dealing with an editor that strongly emphasizes revisions, by the time I’m on the last round or two, I’ll submit it without much invested effort. I reach a breaking point in the story where I consider it done, and there’s just not much more I’m willing to do.

  24. Getting “stuck” and procrastinating are two of my worse traits as a writer. And like many of you, it is easy to tell when I am not passionate about a story or a specific topic I have written about. Another big negative is if I am behind on a story, or if a deadline is rapidly approaching, I sometimes stress myself out to the point where my mind goes blank.

    As far as traits I think I possess of good writers–I definitely think I am curious and am constantly having story ideas pop into mind–like Clark and Fry mention. I am also a dependable writer who only hands in work that I am proud of. My work is always on time, I am the kind of person who is fifteen minutes early, never late.

    I don’t know if this is a good or bad tendency, but I always immerse myself in my writing and find it hard to start a new article when I am not perfectly happy with another. This has become somewhat of a problem with the majority of my courses now being in the journalism school, if you can understand why.

    • I know what you mean about having two articles to write at once. I find it much easier to write stories for the TD or DrakeMag when I don’t have stories due for a class — it’s like my brain gets so involved in the one topic that it can’t switch back and forth easily between two or more.

  25. I do know that I have the ability to fully immerse myself in a story. I become nearly obsessed with finding just the right verbs, the precise tone, a perfect conclusion. My mind might as well be an Alice in Wonderland clip of verbs, strings of adjectives, and descriptions when I start to write. I consult AP style on nearly every word I’m unsure of, and put the most passion into my main paragraphs, with quotes, to give the reader a reason to keep going.

    But this same passion takes me overboard. I get so caught up in the story sometimes, that I sensationalize words and insert cliches that I wouldn’t normally use.
    Ironically, as soon as someone starts to give me constructive criticism, I become my worst self-critic. (And aren’t we all?) I tear my story apart, literally and mentally. I don’t scream, but I come pretty close. So, it’s a continual process of writing, re-writing, tearing, shredding, and re-writing again. But I love it.

    • I know what you mean by this. Even if I hate hate hate a topic, after thorough research I often easily become passionate about the subject. It’s hard when your mind goes from thinking you turned in a great piece and overcame your dislike of a topic to seeing pages upon pages of red ink. Luckily most of my editors have been really encouraging, and willing to listen to what I think is the best angle/future for the story. Since I’m the one who did the research, it’s nice to be able to logically talk out a plan for a story with an editor.

  26. I take a lot of notes. I write down everything. It’s excessive. My interviews can tend to be too long-I have too many questions. A good editor can look at this in the beginning stages and help me focus, or see how perhaps one interview can have quotes that can be formed into two important stories.

    My good traits are that I care a lot about my story. I will over research times ten to make sure that I know as much as possible about the topic at hand. Getting started is the hardest part, but once I’m over that hump the rest of the story will flow pretty well. Lastly, I have a very hard time writing about something if I don’t feel like it. I hate writing things last minute, but if I feel like writing a story then versus a few days in advance, then generally that’s when my better work will come.

    • Talking about writing things last minute. Don’t we all wish we could finish things 10 days early so we don’t have to get cranked up on Red Bull and try to pin our eyelids open? But yeah, if that’s when the story comes, then be it.

      I have a question though. I just can’t think of a story that’s better to be written the last minute. Have you ever had one of those? Why are they better being written couple minutes before the deadline?

      • Vanezza Van Buskirk

        YES, finishing before the deadline would be wonderful. But generally, I agree with you. Many times my best work is done last minute.

        Perhaps some of the best ideas come in just the knick of time?

      • Nothing crystallizes the mind quite like a looming deadline!

  27. I take tons of notes, obsess over leads, and find in myself a passion for each story I tell and the words I use to create it on paper. My reading is voracious, my stories start out too long before re-writes, and a ridiculous amount of my time is spent perfecting these re-writes and beyond. Sometimes I start out hating what I’m writing about, but I find a way to make it something I love, something that’s my own.

    According to Coaching Writers, these are traits of “good writers,” and I have to say I am a little relieved. Sometimes I feel like my picky qualities about everything with my byline are a little excessive, but apparently they’re acceptable and even desirable.

    As for negative qualities, I’ve got those, too. I’m not quite adventurous enough when thinking of the few story ideas I can. I’m also occasionally slow to put my thoughts in type, and I am (almost) always a big procrastinator. However, shedding light on these can help me overcome them and grow as a writer.

    PS: I’m working on my procrastination — this isn’t due til 6!

    • I feel the same way you do as a writer. I thought that my picky tendencies showed a lack of confidence. When you think about it, would it be possible to grow as a writer if we weren’t extremely critical of our own work?

      • Oh Alysse, I’m so similar to you, except the fact that I take so little notes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a slow writer so I only take notes regarding appearances and facial expressions. Something along that line. And seriously, I can’t understand writers who aren’t obsessed over their leads. Like, how is that even possible? I can’t continue writing when my lead doesn’t go smooth enough, just how readers would do it if they happen to (have to) read my article. So, yeah. The lead = terrible time-waster.

  28. As for my good traits that are similar to good writers’ traits, er, there aren’t that many, really. I know I write to long ’cause I hate adding more information; I love crossing out paragraphs with big, bold line – which almost makes me sound sadistic. I love to tell stories (and sometimes I tell too many). I rewrite my rewrite, which would go to my professor/peers and come back as another worth-a-rewrite. I make sure the organization of my story is good so it doesn’t skip around. And one more thing: I can make myself care about the topic and interested in the interviewers, because somehow I could find the intriguing parts in them.

    Bad traits? Lots. I can’t come up with decent story ideas. I lack creativity when it comes to ideas because I don’t see the world in story. I see it in terms off philosophy and just-let-it-go kind of thing. Still remember this certificate got in high school: “Best Random Story Ideas.” So proud of it! I don’t watch movies that much, so I miss out a lot. I’m far behind when it comes to trends, local news, and sports. I’m basically detached from my own community. And instead I live my free spirit on Planet #RX4.

  29. I’m a sucker for organization. After I’ve completed compiling everything I need for a story, I can’t go any further without organizing everything. This definitely under the “good writer” category, however, it sometimes bites back.

    Another quality that I have as a writer, like many, is procrastination. When this is combined with my need for organization things get stressful.

    One trait as a writer I wish I had is the ability to guide readers from the beginning to end. I feel as though this trait is really beneficial when it comes to good writing. This is something I’ve been working on in hopes to improve my overall writing skills and abilities.

  30. This is embarrassing to admit, but I enjoy opportunities to organize. So when working on an article, my favorite part tends to be the pre-writing and organization. I like my sentences written in a concise way, and presented in a logical order–so that may make me crazy in real life, but according to Clark and Fry that is a good trait to have as a writer.

    A downside of that is that, surprisingly, I tend to lack attention to detail. Once I have the big picture in sight, it’s hard for me to slow down and fine tune each detail. At least it’s something I have become conscious of and am trying to get better at!

  31. I get immersed in my stories. I love to explore every angle possible before I begin to write. I try to put myself in the shoes of the people I am writing about and how the reader will perceive the story. A down side to this is that I get attached to the issue and my subjects. I have to work hard to keep personal bias out of the story.

    A downside is a tend to write my stories last minute because I spend so much time researching and mulling over the article in my head. This is a problem if I have to ask follow up questions. And I always have something I’m not sure about. I am working on writing my stories more in advance because of this.

  32. Waiting until the last minute is probably my worst trait. Once it gets down to the deadline I can type out a story pretty quickly, but it’s usually a pretty bad draft. [Although not always!] I am also terrible at coming up with leads. I usually just write a random sentence as my lead and then go back and change it several times before I come up with a decent lead. Same goes for the title of stories.

    When I do start a story early I always re-write my re-writes. I go through and edit it myself 2 or 3 times and usually end up with something a lot different than what started with.

    Like Ari said, I hate going back to a person to ask more questions after I have already interviewed them. But of course, I always think of better questions after the interview is over.

  33. As for positive traits, I understand quality is important in info. When I first began reporting, I had several interviews where I realized as I left that I still had nothing to work with (I learned to ask better questions soon after that).

    After gathering a load of quality info, I will sit down — with all those idiosyncracies I divulged eariler — and hash out a rough draft. And I’ll rewrite…and rewrite…and pick at it for awhile until I give up and decide it’s good enough to send to the editor (even though I don’t think it’s perfect by any stretch). Even after edits and revisions between me and the editor, I am rarely satisfied with the final product. I always come up with something later that would have made a great addition to the piece.

    I’ll also admit I have come up with ways to avoid my editor if I am stuck with a bad one. I had an editor two years ago who was never satisfied with any part of the story I was writing, so I talked to another editor on staff and asked their opinion on it. After 2 or 3 go-arounds, in which the editor was not clear on what she didn’t like but expected me to change (basically rewrite entirely) my story, she hacked it apart and published a piece that was only about 60% mine. NOT COOL. After that point, I’m always slightly cautious of a new editor, because I don’t want to waste my time again for an end product I can’t even call mine.

  34. Vanezza Van Buskirk

    Many times I feel I am a bad writer. I procrastinate A LOT. If something doesn’t interest me from the start, I have a hard time creating material. If I get bored with the story, I become easily distracted an go off to do something else.

    Becoming distracted can sometimes be good for me also. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but stepping away for a bit to recollect my thoughts can help create a new spin or new twist to add to my story.

    I really neeed to improve on not always writing last minute. Sometimes, my last minute work is great and other times not so much.

  35. Vanezza Van Buskirk

    Many times I feel I am a bad writer. I procrastinate A LOT. If something doesn’t interest me from the start, I have a hard time creating material. If I get bored with the story, I become easily distracted an go off to do something else.

    Becoming distracted can sometimes be good for me also. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but stepping away for a bit to recollect my thoughts can help create a new spin or new twist to add to my story.

    I really need to improve on not always writing last minute. Sometimes, my last minute work is great and other times not so much.

  36. I am probably one of the biggest procrastinators out there. Sometimes I wait until the hour before class to start writing my story. One time I cranked out six short articles in one day. I hate taking notes and doing cold call interviews. Like most people, I find I have a hard time focusing on a story that I have no interest in.

    On the other hand, I do really well in personal interviews. I love asking questions face to face. I hate making outlines, but I usually do a fair job of outlining in my head before I start writing. I might procrastinate, but looming deadlines give me a certain kick that I can’t get any other time. Each writer has a unique mix of good and bad qualities, and like the book talked about, this mix can result in some amazing stories if the writer has an editor who’s willing to coach them through their weaknesses and accentuate their strengths.

  37. Most of us have confessed to a certain lack of confidence in our writing ability. Cut yourselves some slack! You are young, still learning, with years and years ahead of you to polish your craft. The best — and worst — thing about writing is that you never master it. It’s a lifelong endeavor. I read stuff I wrote at 20, 30, even 40, and groan. When I’m 50, I’ll probably look back at this and groan!

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