4.4: Time for Tips
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“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”
Writers offer these quick tips for getting your feature career started.
“Whether you are training for a marathon or you want to be the best baseball player or whatever, you have to put in the time. You have to put in the effort, and if you don’t, it will certainly come across in your writing. You will know when you sit down and write if you put in the time and the effort to write a good feature story. That is really the secret. The secret is really the time and the effort.
“Another secret is to have a different idea. Go away from the herd instead of following it and you can tell some really outstanding stories that way.”
“No one becomes a good feature writer by being a good texter or emailer. This is basic as hell, but get your butt out and learn how to have face-to-face conversations, which is a lost art.”
“The secret in feature journalism writing is to be open and to be a sponge — to listen to more than you talk. The best things I have written have been because I just took in the experiences and really thought about them, and I didn’t go in with an outline in my head and a goal in mind about the story I wanted to tell. Keeping an open mind and being curious is super important.
“It’s so fun too. Keep an open mind and let the story take you where the story will take you. That will take you to where the story is more truthful and meaningful.”
“There’s a difference between being a reporter and a writer. When I write 500-word pieces in the inverted pyramid style of this one thing that just happened, I can say “Oh I reported this piece. I had all of the information handed to me because of some news event and then I just wrote it in an easily digestible fashion for people that want to know what that they think they just saw on CNN was.” I consider that reporting.
“Writing I consider taking a nuanced problem that nobody really understands, and being the person who puts all of the information that is out there into a storylike format where readers can sit down with it for 30 minutes and digest it.
“To be a good writer, you have to read other good writers. You can kind of borrow from the format they took for features. That’s not stealing someone’s idea; that’s just a format for a feature story. You can take more liberties with it after you have learned 100 times how to do it the way that it’s meant to be done.”
“You need to find your own voice, and that can be tough. That can take some time. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it. The big thing is knowing that with feature writing, it’s kind of a blank canvas. There’s no “This is how you’re supposed to do it.”
“The greatest part about it is you can let the story dictate kind of how you want to set things up. A lot of times, if I’m writing a story about someone who overcame some tragedy, you probably want to at least tease what the tragedy is in your opening section. Sometimes you get to the absolute, most dramatic moments of this person’s life and you make that your lede, and then you pull back a little bit and give more background details and build back up to that point. That’s one way. Or sometimes you just have a slow build to what the dramatic moment is.
“There really is no script you have to go by. What makes feature writing so rewarding is that you can choose what works best. That freedom is great.”
“You have to challenge yourself to never get comfortable to everything that you have access to, because you have access that tons of people would kill for. What in your access are you not sharing with people and where is the story there and is there something you should share with your readers?”
“The key is to not just focus on what people are saying. Look at the scene around you. Take notes, write down what strikes you. What are the colors, noises, sounds, the feelings you are feeling? How do they react? How do they describe something? Does their face light up? Don’t worry about what they are saying. That’s why you have a recorder. Take in the scene. What is striking them and striking you?”
“Write what the people want to hear. When I wrote baseball, I had to think about what people would want to be reading five days from now. I remember when Joe Carter won the 1993 World Series with a walk-off home run. While everyone else was asking about that at-bat an hour later, I was watching as he removed his clothes and someone was putting everything into a mylar bag to take to Hall of Fame. I didn’t have the burden of writing that night so I could tell that story. It’s natural to want to write features and look for some angle on this famous person that has not been done to death.
“The only way to develop is to read as much as you can. Who wants to be a writer if not already a reader? Who wants to be a chef if you are not already around food?”
“At some point, you have to let it go. Magazines, like life, have deadlines.”