Bookmark this post, because they’re won’t be another one on this topic on this blog ever again.
And to make matters worse, it’s not even my advice, it’s the advice of Jim Geraghty of National Review, from his “Morning Jolt” email newsletter. Oh wait, I shouldn’t have told you that so you would think *I* was brilliant and not him. Man, I will *never* get the hang of this egotistical jerk thing, so I better give it up now.
Anyways, the advice:
Advice If You’re Writing Something Longer Than a Shopping List
- Try to accomplish something every time you sit down to write. If you write for a living, every day you have a blank sheet of paper in front of you. Whether you had a good day yesterday or a bad one, whether you’re in a good mood or a bad one, you have to have something down on that sheet of paper at the end of the day. You have probably heard the expression, “you can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought.” Well, if you write for a living or want to write for a living, you don’t have the luxury of writer’s block.
Your daily effort doesn’t have to result in a finished product. Maybe it’s just a list of ideas or some people to contact or quotes you’ve gathered. But you have to make progress towards completing something every day (or every weekday).
This means figuring out what kind of environment helps you be productive. You may feed off the energy, busy atmosphere, and noise of your local Starbucks or you may need a quiet room at home. (When I’m in some big event’s “press room,” I have to resist the temptation to yell at everyone around me, “SHUT UP, I’M TRYING TO WRITE!”) You may need to close Tweetdeck, shut down Facebook, turn off the TV or radio, put your phone on vibrate, and put aside anything that otherwise eats up the time you set aside to write.
- Read voraciously and relentlessly. About once a week I go to the Barnes and Noble magazine rack, pick up six or seven magazines and flip through them, usually taking home one or two. It’s a time commitment, but A) you want to keep up with what’s being done in your field and B) it will get the gears turning.
- Maybe memorable journalism doesn’t need a news hook after all. Geogg Dyer’s “Life on an Aircraft Carrier” in the New Yorker earlier this year is one of the best pieces of magazine journalism I’ve read in a long time, and it has no particular news hook. He had the chance to embed with the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and it was just absolutely fascinating, detailed, painting-a-picture-with-words magazine-feature writing. They’re not in combat at that time, the most dramatic thing that happens is a man overboard, but it just gives you a great sense of what it’s like to be there. I think a good approach is to approach an event, person, or place and try to describe it all as if you’re writing a letter to a friend and trying to get them to feel like they’re experiencing what’s right there in front of you. Use all five senses — what you hear, what you smell, how you feel (temperature, etc.).
This is obviously a more difficult form of journalism, but this, too, is the kind that turns heads.
- Be nice to each other. Jazz Shaw of Hot Air noted that the blogospheric world has become particularly riven with factions, rivalries, fierce denunciations, calls for purges, rapidly-drawn-and-redrawn battle lines, and an increasingly high probability that if you stick your head up and speak your mind, you’ll be greeted with blistering return fire from the Right, the Left, the crazies, the perpetually aggrieved and offended, and anyone else who can manage to hit “send” on the e-mail screen.
Will Swaim noted, “The dog barks, but the caravan moves on” (Holy cow, I have a new favorite quote about critics – K) — meaning that ultimately, most of the criticism is short-lived and inconsequential.
I humbly noted that none of my critics are important enough for me to respond to, in particular the ones who call me arrogant.
A bit more seriously, I did urge everyone to at least try to treat everyone else in this profession with a bit of respect and kindness. That doesn’t mean we don’t air disagreements or argue passionately. But if I had to give one piece of advice to the young whippersnappers entering the journalism, blogging, or political world, it would be to treat everyone as if you’re going to need a favor from them someday. Because you probably will.
(This is advice I probably should have heard, and needed to follow, earlier and more consistently in life.)
Put another way, there’s probably somebody in this world who has the power to hire you for your dream job, open some door for you, make some extraordinary opportunity happen. Let’s call that person your “empowering person.”
Hopefully, you’re attempting to network in order to meet that empowering person. Maybe you know precisely who that person is — Roger Ailes! Richard Branson! Elon Musk! Marissa Mayer! Dean Kamen*! Jim DeMint! The Director of the Center for Disease Control! — or maybe you’re still looking for that corporate headhunter, Hollywood producer, book publisher, law firm senior partner, or venture capitalist who believes in your product, or whatever role fits. You don’t know how many of degrees of separation stand between you and Kevin Bacon the person who can help make your dreams come true. This person may be a friend of your friend, or more likely, some more convoluted connection: This empowering person is the boss of a friend of your coworker’s former colleague.
You don’t know who this empowering person knows. You probably don’t know who all of their friends are, who all of their relatives are, who their spouse’s friends are. If one of those people knew you, liked you, and thought well of you, you would be much closer to getting that empowering person to help you achieve your dream. This is even better than references; these are endorsements.
Hopefully, someday you’ll finally get a chance to make your pitch to this person: ”Hire me.” “Buy and produce my screenplay.” “Invest in my company.”
When you meet that person, you may come to them as a stranger. Or they may know you by reputation, either professional or personal or both. Before you walk in the door, they may have heard quite a bit about you. And you want that person to have heard as many good things about you as possible, right?
I must confess, I don’t always follow that second tip as much as I’d like, to my determint and shame.