Advice For Young Writers

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - by Joel Belz

In an era where engineering graduates with a bachelor’s degree and no experience are offered salaries of $50,000 just to show up, it’s sobering to have to tell young people who want to work with words that journalism remains a badly paid profession. The reason, which also affects teachers, is simply the law of supply and demand. God seems to have placed in an extraordinary number of people the desire to influence others both through teaching and through the printed page. The compulsion for many is so strong that they tend to ignore the pay factor just to get on with the mission.

While the crowds of those wanting to become teachers might have diminished a bit, would-be writers are everywhere. The lure of having your name in print continues to intoxicate, which means the competition for starting jobs as writers remains keen.

Having watched that phenomenon for a decade or two, I’m ready at last with specific advice for aspiring writers. Learn these rules well, and you’ll still die penniless and in obscurity. But at least you might get something into print!

First, learn some important distinctions about categories of writing. Give up on poetry, fiction, and opinion pieces. I’m astonished by young people who think they’re prepared to be handed a regular paycheck for writing down their wisdom.

A far better place to begin is with basic news reporting, and I can tell you from experience, it’s also more fun. News reporting sharpens your observational powers and your skills in using detail to draw word pictures. Reporting teaches you to listen to how people talk. It deepens your understanding of human nature and throws you into the cauldron of human conflict, grief, disappointment, betrayal, and all the other complexities of life that go beyond petty personal experiences. Reporting teaches you how big the world is, and how far God’s works of creation and providence stretch in every direction.

In short, reporting enriches and matures you. If, someday, you also succeed as a writer of poetry, fiction, and opinion, that success will come in large measure because you honed your skills first as a reporter. Mark Twain spent his early years as a newspaper reporter and typesetter. Another giant among American writers, Herman Melville, apparently did no newspapering, but he was a reporter nonetheless. Melville richly prepared himself for his writing career by adventuring for four full years on the South Seas. Nobody writes out of a vacuum.

Here at WORLD magazine, if a gaggle of writing candidates were to show up looking for jobs, good reporters always trump opinion writers. Opinions are a dime a dozen, and easy to produce. Reporting takes hard work. That’s why it’s worth more to us.

To such advice, let me append this further counsel: Because even good writers sometimes go jobless, it’s not a bad idea to learn some other skills. If two people showed up at my office looking for a writing job and offered equally attractive clipbooks with samples of their work, I’d still take the one who said he or she also knew something about marketing, speaking a second language, mastering spreadsheets, or networking computers. All of those are worthwhile skills around a publishing enterprise. Face up to the fact that your writing abilities may not yet, by themselves, land you the job you want. But such skills, plus something else of value, might.

That “something else of value” might even be competency at pushing a broom.

“How do I get started?” they all ask me.

“At the bottom,” I tend to reply.  

----

(Re-printed with permission from World Magazine and World News Group)

Joel Belz is the founder of World Magazine, based in Asheville, N.C.



Chattanooga Mentoring Collective To Host Male Mentor Breakfast Friday

United Way of Greater Chattanooga’s Mentoring Collective will host the third Male Mentor Breakfast on Friday. The agenda includes the kick-off of the 100 Men in 100 Days campaign and keynote speaker Josiah Golson.  The breakfast will be held from 9-10:30 a.m. at United Way of Greater Chattanooga, 630 Market St. The 100 Men in 100 Days campaign, facilitated by Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Nancy Ward Chapter, NSDAR Inducts 2 New Members

Nancy Ward Chapter, NSDAR, started its 2018 calendar year on Valentine’s Day with the monthly meeting at Mountain City Club.  The Daughters selected a “Go Red!” theme to remind members about American Heart Month.  Information on Heart Month and how to reduce the risk of heart disease was later distributed to all members.  Two new members were inducted, Keely Farris ... (click for more)

City Files Petition To Turn Confederate Cemetery Over To Sons Of The Confederacy

The city of Chattanooga has filed a petition in Chancery Court asking that management of the Confederate Cemetery be turned over to the Sons of the Confederacy. The Sons of the Confederacy, a group that has long taken care of the cemetery, joined in the petition. The cemetery is located by the UTC campus. It is beside the Citizens Cemetery and the Jewish Cemetery on the old ... (click for more)

Candidate For County Commission District 5 Lives In District 7; Election Office Says Geter Plans To Move Prior To August Election

A candidate who qualified to run for County Commission District 5 currently lives just across the line in District 7. The election office said Katherlyn Geter advised that she plans to move into District 5 prior to the Aug. 2 general election. She is running against District 5 incumbent Greg Beck in the May Democratic primary. Ms. Geter lives in a neighborhood near Silverdale ... (click for more)

Reflections On Billy Graham

Sandra and I are saddened this morning after learning of the death of Billy Graham. We rejoice today, because Mr. Graham once said "It will be reported that Billy Graham has died, but that won't be the truth. He said the truth is that he had only moved to a new location".  I remember when we named 15th Street as Billy Graham Avenue, his daughter Gigi came for the dedication ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Me & Billy Graham

For several years in my life it seemed my bad arm and I spent more time at Mayo Clinic than we did in my own house. I hold the record for the most different infections in an elbow at the same time, and my medical charts never had my name on them, instead I was simply, “Mr. Complication.” One morning in particular I spent a horrible three hours in the “nerve conduction lab” with ... (click for more)