Freeing your writing voice
It seems only fair after my post inviting you to the National College Media Convention session March 11 on writing with voice — and overcoming the “stranglers” — that I report on the solutions we discussed.
As always seems to be the case when the topic is great writing, a bunch of smart, engaged students turned up in New York — and again at Georgia State University on March 16 when I repeated the session at the SPJ “MediAtlanta” conference. (And at GSU, Seminole State College professor Jennifer Sheppard took great notes and graciously shared them so I could better recall questions and unscripted comments.)
So here are the five “stranglers” I listed, along with some suggested solutions.
1. Fear, or lack of confidence in competence.
Steps to build confidence:
- Read good writing.
- Find good advice. (Books like “Writing For Story” by Jon Franklin.)
- Fail faster. Try stuff.
- Be proud of small successes, like a great paragraph.
2. Inadequate detail in reporting.
Add elements to your routine for reporting ALL stories (you never know what will turn into an opportunity for narrative touches):
- Details, details, details. Scenes, colors, times.
- Trust your instincts when reporting. If you’re drawn to a minor detail, maybe it’s important.
3. Reluctance to make an emotional connection to the story.
Of course your reporting will be factual. But don’t be so “objective” you can’t feel emotion.
- Honor your emotional reaction. If something provokes an emotional reaction in you, you may provoke it in your audience.
- Keep reporting on whatever caused the emotion. If it’s the real thing, you need details. If not, you’ll discover that and move on to better material.
4. “You can’t write like that on deadline.”
Yes, you can!
- You always write with a voice, even if it’s standard journalism monotone. Choose the most effective voice.
- If you’re in the habit of capturing detail and emotion in reporting, it will become easier to write it on deadline.
5. “My editor won’t let me.”
Don’t wait until you’re on deadline to make the case for storytelling. Getting editors and colleagues to support the idea in theory will make them more receptive — and at least you’ll be able to remind them of their prior support.
- Start now talking up narrative and voice in your newsroom.
- Talk about the virtues of narrative touches even in quick stories that are not classical narratives.
- When you first think you may stretch your voice in a story, alert editors early — well before you turn in the story.