Tag Archives: narrative nonfiction

Where’s that draft coming from?

I’ve been trying to write.

Really. TRYING.

But I’ve got post after post that I’ve started and stopped and come back to and labored over and just seem to be going nowhere. A little germ of an idea that seemed good at the time, but just won’t develop and resolve itself.

I’m open to tips from any writers out there. I know I’ve got plenty of you are friends on Facebook, journalists and bloggers alike. Do I give up on those microorganisms? Do I just let them simmer for a while? Do I fight through and just post and fake it til I make it?

My background is journalism. It’s what I studied in high school and college, what I did for a living after college and what I’ve taught for the past 12 years. Hence the lack of an Oxford comma in that sentence.

I read a lot of columns and tried to be a columnist for a while. I marveled at the ability of our paper’s sports columnist who cranked them out almost daily for year after year. They weren’t all gems, but he always met his deadline and did so coherently. And he could really dazzle at times. But I felt the weight of always having something to say, all by my lonesome. The degree of expectation I felt was brutal.

That’s what this feels like. Except for the fact that I don’t have any editors requesting copy and only a handful of folks will ever read this. But I sit and work and write and look at what I have at the end of the day and think, what the hell am I trying to say? Where is this coming from? And where is it going?

It’s got to be more than just an exercise. I teach my students to write for their audience. To write to communicate. But there has to be a message.

I was never much of a columnist. I had my moments here and there but it was never consistent. I’d like to try it again, but I’d like to try something else too.

My favorite pieces to read and to write were never columns. They were what we call in the journalism business, “features.”

My friend Ben hates that word. He says it doesn’t have any meaning for anybody but journalists and certainly not the audience. He writes narrative non-fiction, or even more clearly, stories. And he writes them well.

Here’s how it works. You meet somebody. You have a conversation. You find some things that really compel and fascinate you and you dig into that, in the hopes that someone else will feel the same way about it as you do. And then if you’ve found the story, and it’s really grabbed you, you pour yourself into it. You have to tell it. You have to get it out. Then you move on to the next one.

I love teaching kids to do that. And not all of them can do it. But some of mine do it exceptionally well. But I also love to do it. I was decent at writing those types of stories back in my newspaper days. I’d hope that teaching the practice for the past dozen years would make me at least a little bit better at it now. Actually I reckon that it would improve me a lot.

I want to get back to telling people’s stories. And there’s a specific type of story that I’m interested in telling. It came to me on the drive home after work last night. I’m still bouncing it off some people and trying to work out the details, but I hope it happens. If it does, you’ll find out about it here.

Thanks for reading. Share your wisdom if you’ve got it.

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