Assignment for Sept. 15/16

Re-read (or read) Chapter 8 and 9 in “Coaching Writers,” which discuss the writing process.

As a writer, at which point in the process do you typically get hung up? What can you or your editor do to help you through that “rough patch” in the writing process?


67 responses to “Assignment for Sept. 15/16

  1. I’m terrible at endings.

    It takes me four or five tries to end a phone conversation and I’ve learned to start saying goodbye to people fifteen minutes before I actually need to leave anywhere. Wrapping up a story usually trips me up in the same way.

    I’m not one of those people that agonizes over their lead for hours before they write a story. Half the time, I purposely skip writing the lead until I have a chunk of the body written so that I know I can connect the two. But when it comes to the ending, I start to work too hard. Even when I’m working with hard news I find it hard to just stop writing when I’ve run out of things to say. I like it to be tidy and conclusive.

    In one of the imaginary conversations from the book the editor asked during the reporting process if the writer had an ending in mind. That will probably be something I start to work on or have editors help me with. As I’m gathering information and getting quotes, I’ll be subconsciously feeling around for pieces I can use in the last paragraph. Like they say, using that two minutes during the process will probably save me a half hour staring blankly at my computer screen.

    • As writers, I think we tend to get hung up on those dastardly endings. After all, we want to finish with style and flourish. I tend to like finishing out with a really strong quote. But that’s gotten me in trouble before, too. Because then I’ll search for my best quote and somehow try to incorporate it into the ending–when in reality it should go mid-story. So I completely understand where you’re coming from.

      • I disagree. If I have a decent lead, endings come easy. Just bring it full circle and you’re golden Neat, clean, easy.

      • I agree Riane. Endings are usually pretty easy for me as long as I have a decent lead that stays strong throughout the rest of the story. I think this is because the two are usually tied together. You don’t want to have a lead that you never mention again. That can just confuse the reader. If you mention your lead one last time in your ending, your story comes full circle, just like Riane said.

      • I’m with you guys about the lead providing me with a foundation for a solid ending. It’s the lead that I get stuck on and stress about because I know that my ending won’t come together without it. All about the full circle–it leaves the reader feeling like what they read was complete, and makes them reflect on the movement of the piece.

      • Matt Vasilogambros

        I think you can still have a strong quote at the end that does the same, or even better job, of bringing the article full circle and tying to the lead. So, Matty, I think using a quote would be fine – even better if it’s a strong quote – as long as it appropriately ends the article.

    • Endings used to be tough for me when I started writing a lot of news stories, but I’ve found that the best endings in stories sort of write themselves. I think the key is not to try to hard to think of a good way to end a story. Sometimes simply reaching the end of the facts and stopping is the adequate ending. If not, sometimes recalling some interesting detail from earlier in the story can work as a pretty good ending. But you always have to remember that the end of your story is the part that the fewest readers actually read, so you can’t get to stuck with it.

      • lindsaymiller89

        I really like to end with a strong quote. Something that really sums up the article. I think if you can get your reader to walk away from your story with that quote stuck in their head you’ve done your job.

  2. Beginning a story is always rough for me. And then ending it. I tend to ramble on an extra paragraph or two before actually ending my piece. I’m a verbose writer in nature, and so knowing where to cut myself off is a huge issue for me.

    As far as what editors can do to help me, it’s actually quite simple. Wait for me to turn in a draft. And then tell me whether or not my beginning sucks. I seem to have trouble leading with a lead. I’ll bury it six feet before I even realize it’s a lead.

    As far as my endings, an editor should feel free to cut me off. Verbal inebriation is not a pretty thing, especially when you only have a 500-700 word count to begin with. Please, Mr. Editor–cut what needs to be cut, hand it back to me and have me revise.

    I also feel I should mention that I hate editing, but I love editors. I worship constructive criticism, even while the two words put together tend to make me cringe. But really–it IS constructive and it helps me to have that type of criticism. It helps put into perspective for me what I’ve already hashed out. If an editor gives me enough constructive criticism I can usually hand in a “flawless” second draft.

    But that’s just me… And, as we all know, there’s no such thing as flawless when it comes to writing. But a boy can dream, right?

    • I’m just like you. I sometimes like dramatic leads that end up being way to long when I get done with them. Sometimes my lead ends up being multiple paragraphs, which is not a good thing. I’m like you in the same respect that I need editors to reel me in. That is where they help me most during the writing process. I like it when they cut the unnecessary stuff out of my piece and tell me what they think I should really focus on.

    • I agree, re: beginnings and bringing the editor in after the first draft. I think if s/he were to get involved much sooner, there’s a good chance it’ll become too many cooks/not enough pots.

      For me, when I’m trying to start something, I might produce pages of waste before I actually find what it was I set out to write about in the first place. This is time consuming, but at least it gets a rhythm started.

  3. Rough patch = starting.

    If I can get a decent outline together, I’m good to go, but mustering up the motivation to sit down with a blank screen and a notebook full of notes is so hard.

    Sometimes I procrastinate way too much, so I need an editor to plop me down in a chair and say, “write.” (Note: I’m not entirely sure this would work).

    • Haha we’re exact opposites then. The fun part for me is reorganizing my notes and the hard part is going from that to the writing. We’d be a great team because I could get all the information and organize the notes and force you to sit down in a chair and you could write!

    • That sounds exactly like me, as well. Normally, the tough part for me is coming up with a lead that’s polished enough that I can feel good about writing the rest of my story, but one of my main problems is procrastination–I will wait until the very last minute to gather everything together and start writing, which sometimes helps me but most of the time, makes the story writing process very stressful.

    • You and I are a lot alike. The blank screen before a rough draft is almost worse than a nightmare, in my opinoin. I’m very self-motivated when it comes to the reporting process, and my motivation somehow drops dramatically as I sit down to that first paragraph. (Leads kill me, so I usually save those for later, unless I’ve contemplated one in my mind for at least a week.) But sometimes, you just have to plop down with a Redbull and put your fingers to the keyboard. 🙂

  4. Sometimes the hard part for me is the Idea if I have to come up with it on my own (the exact reason I struggle with blogging). But besides that I get lost somewhere between Organize and Draft. I am fine with figuring out what I want to say and in what order, but I get confused when trying to translate my outline and notes into a story that sounds good and is clever and interesting to read.

    The best way for an editor to help me through is to really talk everything out with me. If I feel completely confident in what I’m about to write on paper, it comes out so much better. Sometimes they just have to let me struggle through a really really horrible first draft (which Inman hates when I do) and give me lots of edits on it and then it turns out decent in the end. It’s like I know how it should sound in my head, but I can’t translate that to paper. Which is also why I’m so much better at editing than writing. I know what sounds good, what gives me the right information and what is grammatically correct, but for some reason when I’m forced to do it, it’s like a whole new game. Especially when it’s something I don’t like writing about anyway and I have to be clever. I think it’s possible for someone to be a great editor and not such a fabulous writer.

    • I totally think it’s possible for someone to be a great editor and not a great writer. I think it’s also possible for someone to be a good writer and not a very good editor. That’s what I think about my editing skills. I think I’m a decent writer, but set a story in front of me and tell me to edit it, and I’m instantly uncomfortable. This is something I really need to get over. I focus too much on the writer and not enough on the reader. It’s OK to give criticism if it’s constructive. That should be my mantra!

    • I’ve seen you work, so I guess I can kind of see a lot of this from you. But the point is, even though you struggle through that “horrible” first draft, you’re still pushing out good copy by the end of the day. And that’s more important than having a crappy first draft, you know?

    • I agree with both of you. I struggle with ideas, especially for blogs. I also think I stink at editing. Writing and editing are two every different mindsets, so when I try to act as writer and editor at the same time or on the same piece I feel overwhelmed. I need to get over that!

  5. During the writing process, the point where I get hung up is writing the lead. I can have all of my notes organized and know exactly what I want to say throughout the rest of the piece, but I can sit for literally an hour with a blank screen. I’ll type a paragraph and delete it, type a different paragraph and delete it. This process can go on for quite a while.

    I usually hear two different pieces of advice about writing leads.

    1) Leave it blank, write the rest of the story and come back to it when the body is finished.

    2) Write one you know isn’t really going to work, and by the end of the story you should be able to know what you want.

    I think for me, these are two horrible pieces of advice. I must have a lead before I can write the rest of my story. I like to be able to sprinkle elements of that lead throughout the piece and then come back to it at the end to bring the story full circle. When it comes to helping me with this process, maybe all an editor can do is realize that the whole typing, deleting, typing, deleting thing is just another idiosyncrasy.

    I have gotten one piece of advice when it comes to writing a lead that seems to put me on the right track. The advice doesn’t tell me how to write a lead, but it does get the process started, which really cuts down the time I toil over the computer screen. Professor Inman says to find “that story.” You know, a really great story that is entertaining and unique to the individual or situation. If you can find that story, starting your piece is relatively easy. But that still doesn’t mean I don’t sit at my computer trying to find the perfect way to word it.

  6. I have to say that I get stuck in the reporting part of the writing process. I always feel like I either have too much or too little for what I need to write about, and that causes me some serious problems. I think a little has to do with still being a very novice writer, but I guess I’m just insecure. I also suck at getting quotes, because I’m writing so much down (in really horrible handwriting, mind you), and I typically miss something good. I would think maybe a tape recorder would benefit me, but I feel like I would have way too much to sift through to actually get a story.

    If you can’t tell already, I’m more of a “plunger” type of writer. I can’t stand outlining my things because I feel its a waste of my time and effort. I will write and write, and then go back and weed through what I write to get what I want out. I can’t go back when I’m in the middle and start erasing things, as that usually ruins the flow I’ve created when I’m writing straight through.

    • I know what you mean about taking notes during an interview. I have developed my own shorthand methods — if anyone were to read my original notes they would probably see nothing but a few vague letters and chicken scratch. However, I (usually) know what I’ve written, even if it’s very primitive looking. Then I sit down AS SOON as I finish the interview and flesh out the notes, rewriting and expanding short notes while the conversation is still fresh in my mind.

      Also, depending on the type of interview, it’s sometimes beneficial for me to type the notes instead of using a pen and notebook. Typing goes much faster, you won’t have trouble making out the letters later and it will sometimes edit your spelling errors so you don’t have to slow down the interview!

    • Write too much, cut later. It works every time. 🙂

  7. I struggle with connecting the pieces.

    I have no problem coming up with a plethora of ideas for a story, interviewing everyone I can get a hold of, and researching myself silly.

    Once I have half notebook filled with quotes and facts, it’s hard for me to eliminate the unnecessary information and find a “common thread.”

    After I have done all of the “pre-writing,” I am usually pretty into my topic and I want my readers to be too. So I usually end up packing extra random facts into my story because I just don’t want to leave them out!

    So editors, give me a word limit, and help keep me focused… when I get the assignment in the beginning, I appreciate guidance towards a specific angle. And I need a word limit!

    • I tend to struggle with the same thing and it is also difficult for me to find that “common thread.” Like you said, word limits helps, but a very thorough outline might also help you weed out the stuff that’s not needed.

  8. I always have a problem with deciding what information or quotes to use (or not use) when I first start drafting a story. If I have a lot of good info I feel like I should use it all, and it can be hard for me to pick and choose the right bits. In the end it comes down to the fact that I exceeded my word count limit, so I’m forced to remove the least relevant or interesting pieces of info/quotes, which is sometimes hard for me to decide.

    This is when I go to my editor. I have so much information about the story in my head, I think the main problem is that I’ve forgotten what my original angle was. My editor can help me make sense of the informational overload and steer back in the right direction.

    • An outsider’s approach is always helpful when deciding what’s important to include in a story. Because you’re so invested in it, every detail seems super important. Really, the reader doesn’t need to know as much as you think, and this is where an outsider’s view helps. An outsider can help see those details that are often more confusing than informative.

    • I agree with Ari.

      It sounds like your writing hang-ups aren’t that detrimental; you’re starting with something factual and interesting and end up with a piece that’s a bit tighter, a bit shorter, and probably more than a bit better.

  9. One thing that always trips me up in stories is sorting information and deciding what should go in the lead and the first few paragraphs. As a sports writer for the Times-Delphic, I’m always trying to figure out what the main story of a game or match is, and it can be tough to determine what the reader needs to know first.

    One part of this is making sure that I don’t tell the story chronologically. The hard part about this is telling the important details in the first three or so paragraphs and then telling it in an order that clarifies how everything happened.

    A lot of people have talked about the lead being difficult and I agree, but I think it’s for different reasons. I don’t have trouble coming up with leads — and I often write them first — but I sometimes have trouble figuring out just what is the most important thing to include.

    For me, the guidance I need from an editor is simply input about what needs to go where in a story. I think this is something that a writer and editor can easily work on. Between the two people, the lead should become apparent when you talk about the topic of the story and dig out the most important details and parts.

    • I understand feeling the need to write stories — especially sports stories — chronologically. It doesn’t seem logical to organize the story any other way. But in your case, I guess it’s kind of like a written highlight reel. When you watch SportsCenter, it’s not like they show the whole game. If reporters take the highlight reel approach, I think it’d be easier to organize stories.

  10. Like many of you, I must agree that getting started is the hardest for me. Outlining can usually help, but I cannot tell you how many times I delete my first paragraph before I am satisfied.

    I know leads are difficult but one way an editor can help me is just by talking through what I want my reader to get out of the story. Sometimes just hearing out loud what I’m wanting to say will help me figure out how to start.

    Alot of times, I’ve just gotta sit by myself for awhile–however long it takes–in order to come up with a lead I think is “good enough.” I am very picky will leads because, as a reader, if I don’t like the lead, I don’t read the story.

    • I know leads are hard for me as well. I usually find myself writing the rest of my story and forming a lead around what I’ve written later. It seems (for me) to be easier to form my thoughts without the pressure of that first sentence staring me in the face. Once I get my creative juices flowing, the lead just comes to me, sometimes when I’m mid-sentence in writing the body of my story.

    • Vanezza Van Buskirk

      I agree. Many times, I find myself deleting my first paragraphs numerous times until I feel it’s “good enough”.

      I think being picky about your lede is a good thing. If you can’t keep the reader in from the git-go, you’ve already lost them.

  11. Because I don’t usually start writing a story until I have a pretty good vision of my lead, I don’t struggle with it. And since I often tie my conclusion with my lead, that’s not too bad either.

    But the middle — the meat and the most important part — is where I struggle.

    I’m sure this problem would be eliminated if I took the time to outline. This probably reflects my tendency to focus on details like good quotes or pieces of information I want to include rather than the big picture. If I were more inclined to look at my story as a whole, I’m sure I would outline more.

    Editors could help me by simply talking to me about my story and forcing me to see my story as a whole rather than little pieces slapped together.

    • That’s good that you are able to establish the vision of your story before you sit down and start writing it. A lot of times I sit down before that and I just get stuck.

      Being able to see your story as a whole is something that will always help you out. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and read your piece as though you’ve never read it before. That’s easier said than done obviously.

  12. While reading Chapter 8, I had a general idea of where I got hung up in my writing process, but when I got to page 80 (where they explain the organizing step), I noted that almost all of the bullets for a slow, messy process described mine. Except for the late story part at the end, because I never miss deadlines.

    I like to write outlines, because it’s better than trying to construct a lead while staring at that damn cursor blinking at me in a blank word document, but it’s almost never effective for me, because I end up doing a complete 180 in my story than what I had originally written down. In a sense then, outlines are a just way for me to procrastinate more–write down some random things about what I’d like my story to be about, and then just end up changing it later on once the story starts to flow more.

    I think probably, in this situation, one of the best things my editor could do would be to sit down with me, and ask me questions about where I wanted my story to go and how I could apply that to my writing. Generally, if I work through my story outline/notes aloud, I can come away from that with a much clearer focus and a better idea of what I want to write.

    • I definitely agree with you that verbally discussing where I want my paper to go with my editor is especially helpful. It really does depend on your relationship with your editor though–if they “coach” or if they “edit.” Coachers will be happy to sit down with you and spit around ideas and angles, while some would much rather just change what you finally come up with. I’ve had both experiences… and nothing hurts worse than reading your article in print with a completely different lead than the one you spend hours analyzing.

    • I know how you feel with this one. Sometimes no matter how much you plan or try to do the “right” thing by forming an outline, it still doesn’t work out. Since my experience with outlines is that you win some and you lose some, I would suggest forming only loose outlines, not master works akin to the Constitution before every article. This way if it helps-great! If it doesn’t, at least it helped you think critically about your piece. It’s great that you know to work verbally to come to a clearer focus. I’ve found that if I have a hard time with a story sometimes just explaining what I’m writing to a friend can really help me decide what is important/interesting or boring/unnecessary.

  13. Okay; leads are a tough thing for all of us, but why? They are hard for me at times but easy at others. When a reporter or columnist writes one for their stories, many are read and readers say they didn’t like them.
    The hardest thing regarding a lead seems to be what exactly to include in them. I was always told the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. These are the necessities of a story, so it makes sense they’d be in the lead of the story. \
    I thought, great; I got it. Then you find leads without these elements which make the morning paper. What’s up?
    The deal is that the lead is flexible but must be attention getting. With the basic information included, this I can do, but writing it in an attention getting way isn’t the best for me.
    Editors best help me by trial-and-error. I NEED to take my papers to editors three or four times before I’m happy with the final cut. By editing my story next to me and giving helpful criticism and suggestion, I’m able to take the feedback and create a final product with a powerful lead due to the rest of the story coming out solid.
    Because I have problems with the leads, the body of the story is affected.
    Ordering the information from the most important to the least isn’t the big issue in this case but wording these sentences to get the most bang for the buck. I tend to be wordy with all my writings, and I blame that on termpapers.
    The best thing an editor can do for me is be brutal with the red pen. Mark up my paper with cross marks and slashes. I’m always overwhelmed with even the slightest of corrections, and that will never change as everyone thinks their pieces are the best and flawless, but I eventually see the right and correct the wrong, humbly of course.

  14. hollycatherine,

    I see what you’re saying with the slower process. I like to gather all my information and throw everything on the paper, and then, I go back through the collage of information to find the best and most relevant.
    Some would say outlines help, but I think they only help me in financial or disaster stories where categories and numbers are heavy. Breaking these up in sections is a great help, but with feeler-stories and coverage of events are easier without outlines, for me.

  15. Ari Curtis\,

    The meat is the second most important part as the lead brings them in. If they don’t like the lead, then the rest doesn’t matter.
    Many editors say a story with a lot of quotes is better than a story with more information. I think it can be debated, but one thing is for sure: master the lead and the rest is gravy!

  16. I really hate endings. Usually, my endings include either a long flowery sentence or a confusing attempt to string a bunch of my thoughts from previous paragraphs together. An editor definitely helps to connect the lead and the ending, which I think every writer has a problem with at some point in the revision process. Editors definitely help keep the overall theme in a writer’s mind. The editor of my high school newspaper once told me, “Every sentence you write should be for a reason relating back to your topic. If it doesn’t fit that criteria, throw it out.” For instance, I have a passion for quotes. I love to state a fact, then immediately back it up with quotes. This often leads me to another topic completely, so it’s important that I stay grounded. I also think it’s essential that an editor “briefs” a reporter. As stated in Chapter 9, a brief is a sounding board for other ideas, which benefits both the journalist and editor. But briefing doesn’t have to end when the story starts taking shape. An editor should be there every step of the way, especially when a reporter has trouble finding the information or loses focus.

    • Endings are also tough for me. By the time you’ve reached the last graf, you’ve probably said all that’s needed, yet it’s necessary to give the story closure by tying loose ends.

  17. The most difficult step of the writing process for me in the “draft” step. When it comes to thinking of story ideas, I’ve got that covered. Additionally, I usually do a sufficient job gathering sources and coming up with all adequate background information for a story. The problem I encounter my typically, however, is when I finally sit down in front of the computer. I tend to get stuck. I haven’t been able to find the balance between the first few writing process steps and the last few.

    I think I may overwhelm myself with all the pages of notes I have on a certain subject and it’s very difficult for me to sift through it all. Once I get the story written, guidance from an editor helps me pinpoint the most important aspects and I’m able to revise the story.

    For me it helps a lot to have other people read my work. After working on the same story for quite awhile I sometimes lose sight of the most significant aspects within it. When I’m able to have a different set of eyes take a look then I’m usually given a fresh perspective.

    • We have a very similar writing (or sometimes not writing) process. I like that we had to actually consider this for today’s topic, because it’s both reassuring and enlightening to reflect on my struggles and others’.

    • I wish I was more like you. I feel like I am almost the opposite. I stink at story ideas, but if you tell me to write about something I can do it. I have trouble stopping sometimes. Editing is where I get overwhelmed. It also helps me to have people read my work.

  18. The hardest part for me is finding out what the most important thing to focus on is – so basically, starting. Sometimes I find that this is a result of holes in my reporting, other times it just takes a good editor to tell me to cut things that distract from the real point of the story. I agree that outlining helps, especially just picking out the information you want to keep and roughly placing quotes where they should go. Without doing that I always get even more lost on where to go the the focus of the story. A good editor will tell you not to “marry your children” – meaning you have to cut things you’ve written out, no matter who much you like those details. Thats another good way editors help the process move on.

  19. Whoops! “opinion” **

  20. Like most writers, I get totally hung up when writing a lede. Unlike most writers, I leave my lede till the very end of my writing process. When I’m staring at a blank word document, the last thing I want to do is pressure myself into trying to think of a brilliant hook.

    Even after writing a story and getting a good feel for its tone, I can still have a hard time figuring out how to kick things off. It’s helpful to get a fresh pair of eyes on a story, and an editor could provide invaluable suggestions as to how to start a story.

    • For some reason, I cannot bring myself to just jump into my story without having my lead constructed first. Trust me, I’ve tired–to me it like having a conversation with someone without introducing a topic–so it’s just a bunch of mumble jumble that’s going nowhere.

  21. Vanezza Van Buskirk

    I struggle with the lede. I usually end up with one that’s way too long, or I sit there for what seems to me like “hours on end” trying to think of what to write.

    Many times I will write the rest of my story and then as I progress sometimes the lede will come to me or I wait until I finish the entire story.

    An editor is helpful by sitting down with me to figure out what readers will want to get out of my story and provided ways to improve on creating better ledes.

  22. I always have trouble at the beginning. If I can narrow down my topic to a tiny little angle I can usually get what I need from my reporting. But if my topic still needs trimming I find myself going back to sources with a few post-interview follow-up questions.

    When it comes to organization, it takes me a draft or two to get everything in the right order. Since I write my stories in blocks, my first draft is usually just a progression of graphs, thrown together in a somewhat sensical order. I go through later and move things into a more concrete arrangement.

    Having my editor spend a minute or two helping me narrow my topic and brainstorm sources would make the writing process easier for me. Getting that focus is my main goal. Everything else will come after.

  23. The most difficult part of writing news for me is also one of the parts that I ultimately find most rewarding: the interview. Partially, it’s the going up to a stranger and presuming that you have the authority to make them want to talk to you. But then, once they do agree, I find myself getting lost in conversation and then pre-writing my story so I miss potential lines of inquiry, which don’t come to mind until much later. This makes the writing harder, of course, because I’m missing things I need, to either bridge from one point to another, or to just add color to the story.

  24. “Smart reporters use time instead of letting it defeat them.” While reading and taking notes on chapters eight and nine, this is the quote I wrote in the margins.

    I fit the description of the writer who writes the lead and revises at least 10 times. I beat myself up over each sentence and if it isn’t structured perfectly, I go back and edit. Coming to college, I’ve learned to practice a sort of word-vomit technique where I spend the majority of my writing time in the organizational steps and just crank out the story in my draft step.

    The piece of advice I most benefited from in the readings was definitely the three-question method of writing. By answering just three questions before delving in to the writing step, I’ll have a better focused article that doesn’t take four days to write and organize. Also, I tend to report too little at times. I end up writing the story with a few unanswered questions (usually concerning trade jargon of sorts). Finally, many writers have trouble with finding a focus, I have trouble narrowing mine. The organizing step usually helps with my search for a clear focus.

  25. The lede gets me every time, probably because it gives readers a taste of your story. If they don’t like it, they spit it out. So much for the countless hours of chasing down interviews, hair-pulling and editing.

    Many times, it’s also hard for me to pick a direction with a story. Sure, you’re covering topic “___,” but cramming everything you know about it into 400 words just won’t do. I often write my story in blocks that are organized by type of information. Then I pair the blocks with supporting quotes.From there on out, my draft is a Rubik’s cube, and I continue to shift information around the page until the puzzle is solved.

  26. My challenge comes from the ‘organize’ step. I love thinking of ideas and putting them into action. However, I have trouble stopping that and putting my information into a structure that someone with a different thought process than mine can comprehend.

    Since I know this about myself, it has become integrated into my personal writing process. I generate ideas, report on them, and then type them into my draft before really addressing the organization issue. Once I have my ideas on my screen, I move them around, shift their placement, and fit them into their perfect little place.

    Sometimes I have trouble cutting away ideas, but eventually I come to grips with the importance of organized structure and trim away unnecessary facts.
    Allison’s Rubik’s cube analogy is perfect.

    • I almost missed a part:

      An editor can help me with this struggle by asking to see an outline ahead of time. However, I think my system works for me now that I know how I work. It depends on my interactions with the specific editor.

  27. As a writer one of the toughest parts of a story for me is an accurate lead. Don’t get me wrong-I do portray a truthful story, but it’s difficult when you have a lead down on paper that will attract readers, only to do more research and find out that the information is false. I have been guilty occasionally of writing a story I know a decent amount about and then filling it in with quotes. This may seem awesome at first, but then you sometimes look for cookie-cutter quotes instead of what the real story is. Other times I’ll do so much reporting that when I sit down to type everything comes out, the result: lack of focus and excessive information.

    What an editor can do to help me: make me turn in an (dun dun dun) outline. Although I don’t enjoy outlines very much-at all-an outline would help me focus my work and put my lead aside for a while. This would allow me to know my focus (even without a concrete lead), do better reporting and overall, and be a better journalist.

    • I completely agree with you. I said the same thing about outlining. I think it helps with all the elements in the writing process.

  28. Leads take me a while, and endings can be dicey, but where I REALLY get hung up is in the middle, especially if I realize that my story has suddenly changed.

    For example, if I approach a story with a certain angle, and then realize midway through that it isn’t going to work, I find myself worse off than when I started. I have copy that is potentially unusable, less time and no idea where the story is going.

    To get myself through it, I brainstorm on notebook paper, actually sketching out thought bubbles, trying to figure out new ways to make it work. I ask other people suggestions, to get some fresh insight, and try to create new thoughts from old ideas.

    Usually the brainstorming works, and I manage to alter my first draft into a bang-up revision and eventually a polished final copy. An editor can facilitate the process by talking through a writer and getting him or her to think about those fresh angles or insights.

  29. I have always been bad at the planning stage. I have this impatient part of me that is screaming “get to the writing Jeff!” Unfortunately, the times that I skip the organizing stage (more often than not) my writing goes very slowly and all in all it’s a pretty agonizing experience. Planning my writing is definitely something that I can improve.

  30. Reporting is really hard for me unless I wait until closer to deadline because I sometimes get really shy when I talk to people. My biggest hang-up in this process is asking those really personal (but completely necessary) questions. A lot of times, too, I hesitate to ask the same questions again if I don’t get the information I need. This, as you can imagine, can make the whole process much more difficult.

  31. I struggle with the lead the most. Sometimes I find myself using the whole first graph to engage my audience, instead of using my first sentence more efficiently.

    I usually have to sit down and write my entire piece, and then go back to the lead. That works pretty well for me, but sometimes I feel like I can’t end well without a good lead. It seems to be a vicious cycle.

    I have started outlining some pieces before writing them, and so far it is working well. I find it easier to write a lead when I know exactly where I want the story to go.

  32. Something I like about journalism is that every story is different. Although I feel competent, I’ve never felt overconfident. Each story I write keeps me on my toes, which is kind of fun. Each idea presents a unique set of challenges.

    With that said, I always have to work hardest to make sure my bases are covered in the reporting process. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write, especially with a looming deadline, and realize you have a gaping hole. I’m not sure if it’s a problem or if I have a fear of it being a problem, but I’m definitely most conscious of it.

    That, in itself, keeps me from avoiding the mistake–being aware of the potential problem.

    …That’s a cop-out answer. The best way to alleviate a fear of reporting is probably to make sure I’ve got my ducks in a row before I even get to that stage, which I suppose goes back to my organization. It could probably be assessed.

  33. Matt Vasilogambros

    As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I get hung up on the lead. I feel that once I get the lead down, the rest of the story flows pretty well and the ending comes even easier. If editors need to cut my story, I usually ask them to take it from the meat of the story and not the ending. This might bite me in the butt someday, since it’s the first inclination of an editor to cut the ending, but that’s just the way I’ve been taught.

    I always appreciate it when an editor asks me where in the story I feel it would be good to cut. The worst is when the editors cuts a section out that you felt was very important. This ties into strong communication between the writers and the editor. For the most part, however, I’ve had pretty good experiences with that.

  34. The draft-revise process is definitely my biggest downfall. I often do what Clark and Fry advise against: revising as I draft. For some reason, I can’t get past something looking wrong on the screen even temporarily. I know it would save me lots of time, and it’s not to say that I catch every mistake as I go, but I usually do stop and correct things or look up issues of contention.

    I think I do this because I’m scared I’ll miss a mistake when I go back to revise my work. I know that is silly, but it seems like that makes my “major revision” more in-depth if I’m not worried about keeping track of those small imperfections along the way.

    I think when an editor is encouraging and assures me that even work I write poorly under a deadline isn’t that bad, I tend to trust myself more. I trust myself to “bleed write,” or let the thoughts and ideas flow into words without stopping to handle the minutia. Somehow trusting that it will turn out “good” makes me feel more willing to take risks and just put it all on paper. It is when I’m self-conscious that I begin to micro-edit and focus on the details, because I feel they’re more concrete than the bigger issues of organization and focus.

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