5 things I learned about writing

5 things I learned about writing

Nancy Comiskey claimed she learned the five most important things long after she should have learned them, but there is a direct correlation between a desire to learn and actually being a good writer.

“We would be paralyzed by fear if we new how much we didn’t know,” said Nancy Comiskey.

Although a journalist would have heard most of her advice before 1:30 Friday, she presented the information in a way that placed greater weight on the repeated advice and  made me reconsider the basic writing mechanics.

1. It all starts with a great idea

There are several characteristics of a good idea. They are simple, unexpected, fresh, compelling, concrete, emotional and tell a good story. In order to make an idea fresh or unexpected you often have to think of stories differently and find new angles. Her projector screen read:

The number of vasectomies increases right before March Madness begins.

This story is certainly unexpected and puts a new spin on the competitive basketball season.

2. Keep it simple

Keeping the language simple does not mean dumb the language down. It is actually much more difficult to write clearly and concisely and effectively use simple language. Comiskey asked her listeners to image that they were drowning or in a crowded more theater and smelled smoke. What words would we choose? Most likely the most simple words to get our point across quickly. Comiskey shows quotes from famous writers, all of which supported her advice.

George Orwell said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.”

“Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” were words of wisdom from Hemmingway.

3. Make quotes earn their keep

Not all quotes deserve to be in a story. In fact, it is rare that an interviewee or source said something better than the reporter could have. Direct quotes should convey emotion, be short and be powerful.

Also, first questions rarely yield colorful direct quotes. Keep asking questions until you get the best quotes you can get.

4. Write right-branching sentences (and then stick the landing)

This tip refers to subject-verb-direct object, but she described the rule in a very visual way that makes it difficult to use passive voice ever again. As long as the sentence keeps moving directly to the right the sentence can continue and remain clear.

Subject + verb + series of words or phrases = right-branching sentences.

She also explained a hierarchy in word order.

The most important information goes at the end of the sentence. The second most important information goes at the beginning. The least important information falls in the middle. Details placed at the end of a lot of impact.

5. Remember that words have an impact

This is not an ego-boost for the reporter. Instead, this is a reminder that a source’s quotes carry weight and significance. With that said, it is vital for the reporter to quote the source accurately. Strive to be fair, accurate, serve sources and minimize harm.

“Just because you are a journalist doesn’t mean you stop caring about people,” she said.


I think it should work just the opposite. You should care more, and convey that empathy and desire to improve through writing.



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