By G G Collins
© Copyright by G G Collins
If you have a writing question, go to the Contact Page and ask. I’ll try to answer it. Thanks for stopping by.
When a Pen Isn’t Just a Pen
When taking notes during an interview or at a press conference, the type of pen you choose can make all the difference. Look at the pens in the photo. Which would you select? The best one for taking notes while someone is talking about 110 words a minute, is the round colorful one. Reason? It has a medium ball point.
The other two pens are both fine points, one is a gel tip. Fine points slow down note taking. I’ve found the gel tip to be even slower, dragging and pulling. The medium tip slides almost effortlessly. The rounded shape is more comfortable to the hand. And the rubber strip around the tip assists the fingers in grasping the pen without gripping, reducing strain.
Choosing the correct pen for the job is important in getting the story.
Are You Dangerous?
You’ve heard the Albert Einstein quote, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?” We writers, particularly general reporters, learn a little about many things. One day you may be interviewing a surgeon about a new knee replacement. Later that afternoon, it’s the work of a new choreographer. Don’t forget the big fundraiser for the new children’s playground with the latest, safest equipment or the aviation story where you talk with the youngest and oldest student in the ground school. Or maybe you learned how the pollen count is calculated in your city. Hey, did you make it to the press conference on the new beer release? Taste testing? Sorry, no.
Reporting is a nonstop job where you’re learning faster than a child in its first year of school or the bewildered Freshman in college. Just try not to diagnose illnesses, take over the controls of an airplane or start creating dance steps. Go ahead, be dangerous, learn everything you can and write about.
Update: AP now says that “website” is a proper spelling.
Tools of the Trade
If you want to write for newspapers and magazines, you’ll want to have a copy of The Associated Press Stylebook. It contains the approved spellings that media uses most often. For instance, did you know that “Web site” is two words, the first one capitalized? And “e-mail” has a hyphen? It also contains Celsius conversion tables for those international stories, along with international time zones. There are sections on sports and business guidelines and media law, something we all need to know about to avoid problems pesky problems like lawsuits.
For fiction writers, the reference text of choice is the The Chicago Manual of Style. This is the style guide that many book publishers use. Yes, this can be desert dry stuff, but knowing when to use a hyphen in compound words is important. If you write arts, for instance, you’ll want to check out the rules on musical compositions. But this is kind of fun. When a publisher says “yes,” you’ll want to know what all those copyediting marks mean when they return your manuscript for correction. Yup, they’re in there.
Despite what your typing teacher may have told you, in journalism there is only one space that separates sentences. If you’re an aspiring reporter, time to become acquainted with the spacing quirks. During my early years as a newspaper writer, I might be asked to use triple- or double-spacing in my manuscript. Margins were 1-inch at least, and the font was “Courier.” It was easy to use Courier because you can get about 250 words per page, making the word count easy. But now, we have word processing programs that count the words for us.
There are more changes. Editors are asking me to use single-spacing and may also ask for a specific font, usually Times New Roman. Some will want you to set up a newspaper column. In an ever-changing journalism world, be certain to ask these questions if a style sheet isn’t provided. Do-overs aren’t always a given in the fast-paced world of online–or print–reporting.
The Value of a Weekly Newspaper
Don’t have any published credits? Is there a weekly newspaper or magazine in your city? Weeklies often hire freelance writers (called stringers if you get regular assignments). They are more likely to give a budding writer the opportunity to show what she/he can do than a daily or monthly.
If you have zero published credits, then let’s go back to college and revisit the dreaded term paper. In many ways, writing a story is very much a term paper. Choose something that’s going on in your city, particularly if no one else is covering it. Is there a new art gallery opening? What about that weird new restaurant where everyone wears costumes or maybe there’s a festival or fundraiser.
Do at least one interview with the executive director, president or manager if the person is willing. If not, talk with the marketing and publicity person. Get all the facts, a copy of their press materials and write your story. If there is a human interest story associated with it, get it too. Say you’re writing a story about the local blood bank. Ask the contact person if someone who has benefitted from donated blood will talk with you. Or talk with someone who donates regularly. This is a deeply felt connection by both.
Then, write your story. Submit the polished product, with source list, to the editor or publisher of your weekly newspaper, along with your resume. Be ready to defend any points the editor may ask about.
You’re poised, personable and professional. And you may have landed your first big break as a reporter.
When you think you can’t write
Whenever I sit down to write a journalism piece–even after many years of pounding out column inches–there’s that little bit of doubt. What’s the best possible lead? It’s like the actor who’s about to do his scene, but has stage fright. Writers have stage fright too.
What works best for me? Start writing. Anything! Just begin. Forget the opening for the moment, and write the second paragraph. This may help you have a better idea of how you want that all important lead paragraph to go. Getting something down helps me tremendously. So do deadlines. If you don’t have one, set one for yourself.
What are you waiting for? Begin.