What stifles your writing voice?

Your humble blogger is leading a session at the National College Media Convention next month on the writer’s “voice,” especially in narrative storytelling. I want to focus on what STOPS so many writers from turning in a story like this:

Before the dust and the rage had a chance to settle, a chilly rain started to fall on the blasted-out wreck of what had once been an office building, and on the shoulders of the small army of police, firefighters and medical technicians that surrounded it.

They were not used to this, if anyone is. On any other day, they would have answered calls to kitchen fires, domestic disputes, or even a cat up a tree. Oklahoma City is still, in some ways, a small town, said the people who live here.

This morning, as the blast trembled the morning coffee in cups miles away, the outside world came crashing hard onto Oklahoma City.

–Rick Bragg, The New York Times, April 20, 1995

Granted, we’re not all Rick Bragg (who won a Pulitzer for a portfolio including this story). But so often writers — young and old — seem reluctant to write with any voice except an anonymous monotone.

Here’s my short list of what I’m calling the “stranglers” of the writer’s voice:

  • Fear, or lack of confidence in competence.
  • Inadequate detail in reporting.
  • Reluctance to make an emotional connection to the story.
  • “You can’t write like that on deadline.”
  • “My editor won’t let me.”

Do you agree, disagree or have a comment about any of those? Have some new “stranglers” for the list? Please comment here or tweet me (@adviserdavid, and I’m using hashtag #writingstranglers).

If you make it to NYC13, I hope to see you at 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 11, in Liberty 1&2 for “Writing With Voice in Narrative and Other Features.” After the session, I’ll share on the blog whatever suggestions we come up with for freeing your voice.


About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on February 14, 2013, in Reporting, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I always think about what Columbia professor Samuel G. Freedman said in his book “letters to a young journalist.”

    He said young writers fall into a rut of churning out the “perfectly acceptable” story. It’s a story that’s correct. It fits the formula of a news story. It’s not bad — but it’s definitely not good, either.

    Needless to say many of us are very ambitious, and because of that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of being afraid of disappointing your editor. That kind of attitude lends itself to thinking and writing inside the box.

    Journalism has never been and should never be a risk-free profession. Both editors and reporters need to cultivate and environment where it’s okay to take risks.

    Sometimes those creative attempts will fail, especially when we’re young. But we’ll only learn if we take more risks with creativity and composition. That’s what being a student journalist is all about.

  1. Pingback: Freeing your writing voice | adviserdavid

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