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 Speaks Presents Panel Discussion On Race, Community And Culture

Chattanooga Speaks, founded by Main Street Innovations, invites the public to join a free discussion panel to be held at The Camp House on Tuesday from 6-8:30 p.m. about race, culture and community. "Events across the nation, and our city, are causing communities to come together and be solution orientated in the areas of race and equality. Not all people are doing this in a ... (click for more)

Weekly Roadway Activity Report for TDOT Region 2, July 21-27

Weekly Roadway Activity Report for TDOT Region 2 (Parts of East and Middle Tennessee) July 21 – July 27 Construction Projects Maintenance / Regionwide / On-Call / Multi-County Contracts Bledsoe County, SR-30 slide repair project near log mile 7.5:   Work on this project continues.  The contract includes excavating, stabilizing and rebuilding the road ... (click for more)

Hixson Man Charged With Sending Threatening Emails To General Sessions Court Judge

A 30-year-old Hixson man has been charged with making threats to kill General Sessions Court Judge Lila Statom after police said they found evidence to tie him to recent threats against the judge. David Lee Graham, of 1730 Colorado St., is charged with retaliation against a judge. His bond was raised to $100,000. Detective Ric Whaley said he had been conducting an investigation ... (click for more)

Man Arrested For Confronting Southside Grocery Employee With Gun

Brandon Jamal Appleberry, 27, was arrested on Monday after an altercation with an employee at Southside Grocery on West 38 th Street, officers said. Marty Witt, 44, told police that the suspect confronted him with a gun in his hand. Officers said security video from the store clearly showed Appleberry arguing with several people outside while holding a gun. The defendant ... (click for more)

Lock Her Up? - And Response

It's concerning that the Republican Party elite attending the recent convention would indict, convict and jail a political opponent, when the FBI found no criminal intent to compromise national security and no other law violations were found. This "lock her up" mob mentality is third world, over-the-edge behavior that has no place in a country based on the rule-of-law, where ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Our Double Travesties

Back when we were kids the old guys taught us how to throw a one-two punch. It’s pretty impressive if you do it right, which is to jab your left fist into the thug’s face and then, as though it was a symphony, complete the combination as you deliver a powerful right cross to the same nose. If the thug has a gun, it doesn’t work as well. But, boy, did our community ever get clobbered ... (click for more)