Wick Communications

Don’t put off the writing

In Writing techniques on November 12, 2015 at 6:30 pm

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Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute offered up 10 tips for those of us who have occasion to do a little bit of reporting and research. They are all great. But I wanted to focus on two. Specifically, Nos. 1 and 6.

Clark’s first tip: Research and report until you begin to hear a repetition of stories or key information. That strikes me as the most concise and on point explanation of when to quit that I’ve ever heard. (And when I say “quit,” I acknowledge that we never really quit the reporting. But there comes a time to stop thinking and start doing.)

“Listen for anecdotes, those mini-stories that reveal a larger point,” he writes. “When you begin to hear the same key stuff from different sources, it may be a sign you need to gear down the research so that the drafting can be revved up. Most important, never use the need for more research as an excuse for not writing.”

Which brings us to No. 6.

“Get busy writing before your editor … starts yelling at you because you’re about to miss a deadline,” Clark implores.

“Writers often devote a disproportionate amount of their time to research, leaving writing to the very end,” he writes. “… Your story will not be perfect, but most times “good enough” is good enough. Feel the adrenaline. Use it. Then let the work go.” …

If I had a mountaintop, I would climb it and scream those words. Last summer, we had a very good intern who was a Stanford student and used to excelling in anything he put his mind to. At one point I had to tell him that he doesn’t need to get an “A” on every story. Sometimes a “B-“ is good enough. Just. Write. The. Thing.

I sort of think about what we do as a two-pronged, bifurcated deal – reporting and writing. Clark presents it that way as well. I think that separation is evaporating a bit as we publish to social media even as a story comes together, but writers still put off the writing till the bitter end. That leads to poor execution, stupid mistakes and missed deadlines.

To me, the writing is the fun part. It’s a helluva lot easier than getting the sheriff to talk about something he doesn’t want to talk about. Start it early. Fill in the story with quotes as you get them. Leave a spot for background. As deadline approaches, you’re better off with a story that is 70 percent complete than staring at a blank page.

Clay

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