This is the last article I’ll ever publish in a college newspaper, barring a catastrophic failure on my Shakespeare and Latin finals, which I think I’m safe from. At the behest of my fellow newspaper staff members, I thought it’d be appropriate to leave my loyal readers—I know you’re out there, all eight of you—with 10 of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a writer, editor and human being involved with The Arka Tech.
1. Structure is key. Remember Hemingway’s words: “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” Approach a piece meticulously and know what you’re going to say, how you’ll say it and how to say it effectively before you start slathering your laptop with ubiquitous aphorisms. Parallel syntax equals structure, but a writer must use variation if his writing is not to be redolent of stale bread. One more note on structure, don’t apply it just to your writing. You must manage your time well and be willing to dedicate your life to the craft in order to graduate from dilettante. This means a lot of nights wearing down No. 2 pencils while your friends are out partying. You’re not a beat poet, you’re a writer. (And no, Kerouac would not think you’re cool.)
2. Five dollar words don’t mean a whole lot. Everyone has access to a dictionary and thesaurus, so you won’t impress many people using secondary and third definitions of words you just learned online. Always use the best word that communicates your point, and most the time that’s a simple, Anglo-Saxon word common in every day usage. We’re writing for the public, and big words do not necessarily convey big thoughts and emotions. If “beginner” would’ve worked better than “dilettante” in No. 1, I would have used that word, but my word has a more specific meaning and gets my point across better. Put complexity into the construction of your writing, not Dictionary.com searches.
3. Ask people how they’re doing every day. This includes the sources who give you information, staff members you work with and uppers you take orders from. I’ve found if you genuinely care about how others are doing in their own lives, they’re more likely to care about the work you’re trying to get done. Plus, every once in a while, someone will have something legitimately interesting going on, and as a writer, the wheels should already be turning in your head for story ideas.
4. The journalistic ethic of never taking food at an event you’re covering is untenable and blatantly false. Most the time, the food is there for you anyways. At football games, for instance, food is usually available in the press box for all members of the press. My freshman year I assumed eating on the job was tantamount to capital murder among journalists, so I never ate at games I covered. I’m scrawny as it is, so everyone must have thought I was some monkish ascetic enduring an obligatory fast. Free pizza is cool, bribes, not so much though.
5. Know when to dig in and when to let up. If your best judgment tells you you’re right about something, and someone expresses an honest concern to the contrary, hear them out fully. If you’re still convinced you made the right call, explain your reasoning and work with the individual as best you can. If someone is just irrationally pissed off at you for disagreeing with them, respectfully exit the conversation.
6. Editors aren’t always right. If it’s not simple style, grammar or mechanics stuff, and you think the choice you made worked better, explain to them why your usage made more sense. If the editor is still set in his ways, say OK and adhere to the change. Keeping a job is more important. *Caveat: Agreeing with an editor cannot jeopardize either your value system or worth as a writer.
7. No matter how asinine you find another person’s idea or opinion, try to listen to them until the argument is finished. I’ve heard some laughable theories that make you see why college degrees are now less valuable than they were 25 years ago, but respect is due if it’s given nonetheless. Always know however crazy you think an opinion is, the other person may find your idea just as ridiculous.
8. Tell the story, regardless of what it is or whose feathers it ruffles. When you’re making a meager hourly wage after earning a college degree, it’s easy to simply take the information you’re given and publish it without looking into anything. But this isn’t doing your job, it’s just earning a paycheck, which we’re bigger than. Read people and know if there is more to the story than what you’re being fed. Above all, be curious.
9. READ. This isn’t strictly journalistic advice, but for life in general. How could I expect to inform the public if I’m not well informed myself ? And contrary to Faulkner’s advice to “read everything,” I’d tell you to be an extremely selective reader. This world is far too saturated with omnipresent media influence to read everything you come across (Buzz Feed, tabloids, E! News.) Avoid the aforementioned, and you should be fine. Read some Whitman, for crying out loud.
10. Observe as a human. Don’t try to look through a journalistic lens (what is that?) but instead, interact with people as you would at any other time. This is how you get people to truly open up to you. And this, in turn, is how we tell human stories— by being one.