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.



Local Organizations Raised Almost $500,000 Collectively During #GivingTuesday

Causeway, The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, The Generosity Trust, and United Way joined forces to oversee this year’s  #GivingTuesday initiative, #CHAGIVES. Since 2015, organizations have come together for a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage ... (click for more)

Moccasin Bend Chapter Of DAR Has Christmas Lunch And Auction

Members of the Moccasin Bend Chapter of DAR held their Christmas lunch and auction at the Signal Mountain Community Guild Room on Saturday. The auction raised $562 and benefits Fisher House, which provides free or low cost lodging to veterans or military families while receiving medical treatment at military medical centers.  For more information on DAR, or inquiry for ... (click for more)

Man Barges Into Woman's Home In MLK Neighborhood; Tries To Rape Her; Photos Of Suspect Released; Thomas Carr, 28, Is Arrested

Chattanooga Police said a man barged into a woman's home in the MLK Neighborhood around noon on Tuesday and tried to rape the woman.   Thomas Lee Carr, 28, was taken into custody on Wednesday morning. Carr is charged with one count of attempted rape. Police said, "The victim was followed by the suspect into her residence where the victim was then ... (click for more)

Moccasin Bend Resident Asks City To Move Police Firing Range So He Can Open Bed And Breakfast Inn

A Moccasin Bend resident is asking the city to move a police firing range from off the historic Bend so he can open a bed and breakfast inn. Steve Holmes also said the move needs to take place because the new Moccasin Bend National Park is set to begin implementing its management plan early next year. He said the park should bring 250,000 visitors to Chattanooga each year with ... (click for more)

Vince Dean Saved The Day

Permit me to publicly express appreciation to Vince Dean. His calm, comprehensive and diplomatic arguments to the Chattanooga City Council against the administration’s ill-advised plan to segregate retirees and herd them unwillingly into a separate insurance plan unquestionably saved the day. The proposed new plan, if implemented, was certain to cause months of chaos and confusion ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Let’s Focus On ‘Better’

As I stepped away from the overflow crowd at  Monday  night’s Town Council meeting on Signal Mountain, I leaned in to tell Jean Trohanis how sorry I was to hear of the loss of her dearest friend. But in that millisecond before I could speak, the former but still-loved elementary school principal gave me her best hallway hiss and, with a pointed finger, she ordered, “You ... (click for more)