Wick Communications

The 100-word dash

In Writing techniques on 13 Aug 2010 at 7:50 am

Have you ever noticed that things just seem to happen faster than they used to? I have.

There was a time when we talked about “news cycles.” At its most toothsome, the cycle demanded you grind out something once a day or perhaps a couple times a day if you were a broadcast outfit. And this is only a few years ago, mind you.

Today, of course, the cycle turns like a hamster’s wheel. It just never stops. If you broke news an hour ago, it’s likely someone else is working on an update right this minute. It is impossible to stay completely on top of it 24 hours a day, yet that is our job.

One result is a premium on writing fast. (Actually, this isn’t entirely new. I remember having to prove to the AP that I could type a certain number of words a minute before they would even consider you for a job.) You want to be able to post breaking news literally as it happens. If you are agonizing over your words you are likely to miss the opportunity to be first…

Blogger Michelle Rafter offers some helpful tips. These won’t work for everyone. You may find that typing your notes while on the phone is difficult – a little like rubbing your head and patting your tummy. But they are worth trying.

Here’s a couple things I do:

  • Use a split screen. You probably figured this out a long time ago. But if you devote half your screen to the story you are working on and the other half to your source materials, you can literally keep an eye on two things at once. If you are on a Mac, you might employ the “Spaces” application (see System Preferences) to allow you to keep multiple things open.
  • Just write it through. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Write as fast as you can and then go back and edit. If you are working on a Web update, make it a challenge. See if you can’t finish it in three minutes. Make it a game. Of course, you want to make it right, too, so editing is very important.
  • Think it through on the way back to the office. Usually, if I’m out on a story, I’m putting it together in my head on the drive back to the office. I usually have the lede burning a hole in my head and the general outline impressed into my brain. If you are listening to the ballgame or talking to Aunt Rita on the cell phone, then you are going to have to take time to organize your thoughts once you get back to the office.
  • Work from a template. You’ll save time if you don’t have to format headlines and such.
  • Stay up to date on your content management system. You may not update the Web every day. If it’s been a while, give yourself a refresher so when news breaks you won’t have to ask someone how to do it.
  • Write something every day. Writing is not like riding a bike. You can forget how. It’s more like riding a wave. You want to stay on top of it. There is no question that I suffer from rust after even a modest layoff of a week or so. Hone your craft every day.


  1. Really good tips, Clay. And for all those who don’t get to work with Clay, he actually types so fast that his keyboard starts to smoke.

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