Habits of good writers

In chapter 4 of “Coaching Writers,” Clark and Fry identify 15 habits of many strong writers. Strong writers:

1. see stories everywhere.
2. prefer their own ideas.
3. report voraciously
4. agonize over leads.
5. immerse themselves in their story.
6. “bleed” rather than “speed.”
7. take time to organize.
8. rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
9. trust their ears and feelings more than their eyes.
10. love to tell stories.
11. remember the reader.
12. take chances.
13. devour books and movies.
14. write too long — and they know it.
15. guide the reader to the end.

Carefully reread Clark and Fry’s descriptions of these habits. Do you recognize yourself in any of them? Which ones? Are there traits on this list that you wish were a habit of yours? How would they make your writing life easier/better?

Post your response by classtime Thursday.

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10 responses to “Habits of good writers

  1. Reading through Chapter 4 of “Coaching Writers” I found myself identifying with several of the characteristics of strong writers. I also noticed habits typical of strong writers that I might benefit from adopting.

    The first characteristic that leapt off the page was “agonizing over leads.” This past week I wrote an article on rowing in Tampa, Florida. As I ran for an hour, I thought of several leads and variations of each. When it came time to sit down and write I continued to contemplate how to better what I’d already composed. This happens frequently when I get an assignment.

    I am great at immersing myself in my stories. Sometime as a result of this tendency I also write too long, despite the fact I’m aware that I’ve exceed the initial expectations of the assignment. Word counts are my nemesis.

    As I continue to improve my writing abilities I attempt to report voraciously and gather details the first time around. However, if there are details I could use to better my writing when possible I return to the source and obtain additional information. I have also come to learn that rewriting is a great opportunity to improve. It would be nice to construct a perfect piece the first time around; however, some of my best articles came as a result of writing a second or third draft.

    One of the characteristics I have yet to adopt on a regular basis is “taking time to organize.” At some point in the initial stages of an article I find myself taking a moment to pause and realize I have not already organized my path. This past summer I was prompted by my internship mentor to create a loose article format and input important information in the lead. Nonetheless, when I begin to write without him around I occasionally forget to start with forming a solid nut-graph. I realize this process would decrease my level of frustration and focus my writing more quickly.

  2. I found I could relate to a lot of the characteristics pointed out in Chapter 4. First, I can really relate to prefer my own ideas. I like getting suggestions from other people, but when I first start writing a story I only want to listen to myself. I honestly know that getting help or ideas from others will only benefit me, but sometimes I just feel like I’m the only one that can tell me what to do.

    I also agonize over leads. I always think of the best leads when I’m not at my computer to write. As soon as I get there it’s gone. I always feel like I end up writing the lamest leads. I usually go back and change them several times.

    I often take time to organize. I am an extremely organized person and my story can’t be all over the place. I usually map a story out in my head or on paper before I even start writing it, so I can know exactly how it needs to be organized. The order of things in a story must make sense to me.

    I also devour books and movies like crazy. I can’t even remember how many movies I saw over winter break. And if I’m not watching them I’m usually blogging about them. I get story ideas from something I read or from a movie I watched all the time.

    I am very guilty of writing too much and knowing it. I tend to like to ramble on and I know when I’m doing it every time. I have to go back through my story then and delete places where I have repeated myself.

    As I continue to better my writing skills I would like be able to take more chances. It seems like a lot of the best journalistic writing is done on subjects that are taboo or haven’t been written a lot about. I’d like to be a journalist that takes risks and writes about new and scary things. I also want to be able to remember the reader when I’m writing a story. It’s not that I don’t think about if the audience I’m writing for would like the story, but sometimes I think I’m writing more for myself. I write about things that I know I would want to read about. It’s good to write about what you know obviously, but I’d like to get outside my comfort level and experiment with story ideas that I might not be something I’m in love with. You never know what that first job out of college might be, but chances are I’m not going to be able to write about exactly what I want right away.

  3. After reading through chapter 4 I found I identified with a lot of the points made. The one I connected with the most was that writers immerse themselves into the story. I find I do this all the time with topics I am very passionate about. Often I do lose objectivity, as another one of the points made, and my tone in my work illustrates this, so the need for an outside view (the editor) is essential for me. Also, this helps cut my word count down.

    When I get into a story often I write A LOT. I just have so much to say, but generally find out that it can be shortened. Editors and other people reviewing my work help diminish this issue. So although my love of the work is shown in the text because I’m immersed, it also has it’s downfalls.

    Although one point I did not connect with at all was that good writers read all the time and like movies. I read occasionally, but not constantly. This is something I definitely plan to improve on, just for the sake of being more aware culturally speaking. Which in turn, should improve my writing as the text suggests. As for movies, I doubt that will ever change. I hate movies. I can’t sit for long in situations like that. Maybe that’s just me.

  4. There are aspects of a good writer from this chapter that I see in myself and my writing style, as well as some aspects of good writing that I could incorporate in the future. The first aspect that feels like me was reporting like crazy. I write down every minute detail, spelling things wrong in the process. Ultimately my chicken scratch is undecipherable to anyone but myself, but you never know what information may be valuable either for the story I’m reporting on or for stories I may want to write in the future.

    When I first begin seriously writing a story, I already know how I want the main body to flow and what order I want things in, especially quotes. The lead proves to be the most time consuming thing I’ll end up writing, as nothing seems adequate to introduce the reader fully into what I’m trying to establish in the story. I can relate to chapter four stating that editors usually focus on information in the middle of the story because comments on my lead are typically along the lines of how witty an introduction it was.

    I have been the biggest bookworm ever since I can remember, which is partly why I decided to choose a career that in writing. I’m also obsessed with movies and anything to do with them (Oscars are soon, yay!) and am able to see parallels and symbolism that most of my peers overlook in favor of entertainment value. I’ll usually end up walking out of a movie theater with my brain going a mile a minute and ideas stacking up about future stories.

    I’ve got tons of things as a writer that I can improve upon, but one main thing would have to be rewriting. Usually I like the way a story flows and ends up, and have a hard time rewording things that may be confusing to the reader but make perfect sense to me. I’m still barely able to look at the final print like the text says, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable rewriting what I’ve already produced. Insecurities about never being satisfied are to blame for that.

  5. As an advertising major, I have only written stories for J54.

    During that class, I always agonized over leads. Always. I had to have a lead first before I could write anything else, even if I knew I would go back and change it later, which I almost always did.

    I would always take time to organize. I liked having everything in front of me in the order I was going to write it. It kept me focused, and this led to constantly rewriting.

    I devour books and movies. I always have. I keep movie journals and have a watch list the size of a textbook.

    I don’t tend to see stories everywhere and I definitely preferred being handed a story topic, but I suppose admitting this just makes me the odd one.

  6. There are many aspects of this chapter that I both identify with and hope to work towards.

    I identify with seeing the world as a chance to write a story. I am always that person who walks with their friends and randomly shouts, “I need to write about that!” I am a ridiculously curious person — everything interests me. I want to know how things work, why they work, who works them.

    Also, I am big on taking chances in my writing style. Granted sometimes this bites me in the butt. However, when it pays off it really pays off.

    I have issues letting writers develop their own story.I have a problem with middle ground — either I try to hard to navigate or am completely hands off. This makes it hard for me to guide a piece instead of dictate it or give no insight what so ever.

    Also, “taking notes like crazy” is a weakness I have. I tend to enjoy the conversation a bit too much during an interview and forget completely about the notes. While I know the conversation is important I need to remember to keep my head in the game to get the best and most accurate quotes possible.

  7. I agree with a lot of the other posts in that many of Clark and Fry’s characteristics rang true. For instance, the book describes paying attention to the “sounds and rhythms of prose”(40) as a way of trusting ears and feelings more than eyes. I too consistently reads passages aloud to determine their quality. Although the physical presence of the words on the page doesn’t bother me as much, I need to make sure my work sounds right and that I’m comfortable with it.

    I also really related to another portion of the writing process described in the list as the “mechanical drudgery of organizing the material” (39). Just like the writers the book describes, I spend a lot of time working with my own crazy note system, organizing and re-organizing ideas and quotes. This is the most arduous part of the writing process for me and thus does lead to some of the ritualistic practices Clark and Fry describe. From putting on the right music, to eating snacks, to moving my legs in certain ways, my writing process is decidedly a strange one, but also necessary for me to fully organize the information and move on to the next step. I also found it really interesting that Clark and Fry discussed how good editors pick up on these quirks of the process and learn how best to support the writers during the process.

    However, there are some tips that I wished applied to me and that I’ll be working on achieving as I continue my career in journalism. For example, the opening anecdote of the chapter hinted as the intense reporting skills prized by good writers. Although I like to interview, I need to work on making sure my other reporting is as detailed as possible– probably too detailed. Clark and Fry discuss how the best journalists gather all the details and I need to make sure that I’m the kind of writer who takes note of a pocket square.

    I also loved the idea that “The best writers take chances” (41). Although Clark and Fry discuss how oftentimes, risky moves may not pay off, editors are there to support and check a writer. I need to continually strive to push boundaries and challenge not only myself, but the audience, to approach things in a different way.

  8. I found that I practice most of the habits of good writers. I’m always curious and looking for new stories and I always prefer my own ideas. I always want to produce good stories, which keeps me rewriting and almost always leaves me feeling unsatisfied. I laughed when I read the following about writers: “Unfortunately, they are rarely satisfied with their final stories and, burdened with imperfection, can hardly bring themselves to read their own work in the newspaper. Ego drives writing, making the writer suffer and, at times, insufferable” (40). I agree completely and I think most of us are tough on ourselves because we invest so much in a story and we don’t want to let our readers down.

    I also found that I need to work on some of the habits. I struggle with taking chances, not because I’m not willing, but because I’m more comfortable with playing it safe. I don’t like it when my story ideas are rejected and I’ll be more nervous if I’m working on a risky story. Having editors who trust you and are willing to guide you, increases confidence and offers more opportunities to take chances. I plan to work on this, not just for myself but also for my current and future readers.

    Overall, chapter 4 made me realized that I do have what it takes to be a good writer. Like everything, it just takes a lot of practice and good/bad experiences to improve.

  9. Write too long – and they know it. That’s me. When I am doing reporting I try and get every view and aspect of the story possible and try to fit it into one story which makes it really hard to follow and not easy for the reader to understand. So to compensate for this I write A TON and try to squeeze it all in. I also “bleed” rather than “speed” but not in the sense in which the books talks about it. The books says: Because their standards are so high, their early draft seem painful and inadequate. I bleed all the time. I can’t remember the last time I turned in a story and was completely okay and satisfied with it. I think this is where my perfectionist side comes in because I can never be okay with something no matter how many times it has been edited. Confidence as a writer is something I really need to work on.

    As for traits I wish I had, my top two would be ‘See stories everywhere’ and ‘Agonize over leads’. I have never been the type of person to find dirt in a snow storm. My creative eye needs some training. I can see an idea but only the way people have written about it before- coming up with new ways on how to approach a topic or take the topic into a totally different direction can definitely be challenging.
    As for my leads- they are in major need of help. I despise writing them and usually wait to get others peoples opinions on the paper before I even start thinking about the lead. I can be creative but sometimes things are only funny or only make sense to me or a very niche group of people so I have to make sure that when I do write my lead for other people to review it.

    Having those traits would make my writing so much more advanced and more like a magazine type of writer. In high school and beginning of college all I had done was write for the newspaper and essays. I never realized what a difference there could be in the different styles of writing.

  10. I found chapter 4 very insightful in helping me identify the character traits I already have as a writer as well as pinpointing habits that would help me improve. Ever since I began to learn to write the English language (elementary school) and as I graduated from one level of education to the next; I’ve always been told to be a “strong writer.”

    But I never was given a definition or a list of habits to help identify exactly what that was. And like many writers along the way, I’ve experienced positive failures that have exposed all my flaws as a journalist. To the point that I felt that there was no way my writing could or would ever be…”strong.” But this chapter helped me realize that it wasn’t that I didn’t possess any of the habits of a strong writer, I just needed to strengthen some areas more than others.

    There were several habits that stood out to me as things that I would like to improve upon but I identified 2 that I struggle with the most and that are truly preventing me from being that strong writer that I so desperately want to be.
    1.) “Write to long — and they know it” my blog and even this comment can be an example of my long writing, I do my best to “take time to organize” before I write but I know especially as a magazine major I need to learn how to narrow information down for the audience in order to keep their attention.
    3.) Take Chances: I like to cover adventurous stories but when it comes to reporting I often go after the “safe”sources. But Clark and Fry said “The best writers take chances” (41). And for me that was a call to action.

    But on the other end of the spectrum habits such as: prefer their own ideas; I thrive on creativity, new things people wouldn’t usually think of or finding a twist to ordinary stories that are over reported. I agonize over leads; because they are so important to hooking the reader. A majority of my time is spent on perfecting them. And trust their ears and feelings more than their eyes. Using more than just my visual senses has always been beneficial to me, and in my writing I try to express feelings through words while still remain non bias to the story as a journalist.

    Now that I have a guide to help me navigate I feel confident in striving to become the “strong writer” I’ve always been told to be.

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