the bad: on writing

I have a journalism degree. Print journalism, to be exact. I got it right before print journalism disappeared from the face of the earth.

I will always remember one of the first writing courses I took at the Annenberg School for Journalism. My paper came back with the words: Don’t be cute. Too many words. written across the top.

What followed was a certifiable stripping of my writing. My language. Flowery description was eliminated completely. Get the facts. Get them right. And get them down. And for the love of God, don’t forget where to put the commas.

Writing like that is simple for me. Ridiculously simple. Give me a topic and a number of words and say GO, and I have no problem at all.

Then came this desire to write a book. Actually, it’s always been a desire. Since I was in about fourth grade. So, last year I sat down, wrote an outline and then proceeded to write the draft of a novel.

With absolutely no description.

I knew what was going to happen. Who was going to do what. Who was going to say what. And, it was absolutely easy. Just write the story was my theory. And it was good for me. Just to know that I could be disciplined enough to do it and get that amount of words on paper was very liberating.

But I hated it. Hate it.

So, I took a class. Two, now. And I was basically told to slow down. Write a story. Paint a picture. Something I actually used to do. Not well, but I definitely used to include description.

And the teachers encouraged this writing with lots of words. Writing with ridiculous attention to detail.

It’s definitely not great. But it’s a whole lot better.



1 Comment

  1. It’s so interesting how what succeeds in one kind of writing can make the other one flat. I’m a former small-town newspaper editor and current novelist, and I’ve definitely had to unlearn some habits. But journalism has also taught me about people, and how to do research, and I’d be a different writer without that background.

    Glad to hear you’re back on track with your novel. The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far (on my third novel!) is to keep going. Even if you’re stressed or annoyed by what you’re doing, keep going, because the art of revision is beautiful! You can always fix it later. Good luck!

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