But, I’m back (albeit briefly) to discuss something I’ve talked alot about lately. In addition to people asking my advice on how to “become a writer” or “how to get a job in journalism,” I have also had long talks with friends and colleagues about the way young people enter into the business. It has led me to some conclusions I thought I’d share.
I’m not a journalism teacher and, to be completely honest, I don’t even consider myself a “journalist.” I feel like that term is reserved for the full-time, hard core writers, particularly those who do investigative work. I’m more of a blogger or reporter, but I’ve spent enough time talking to people about it over the last 20 years, I feel like I have maybe a smidgen of insight…though even that is debatable.
Learn to self edit.
Everyone wants to write, but no one wants to open an AP Stylebook. There is real value in learning the difference between its and it’s or the correct way to write 1 p.m. On a personal blog, who cares? I can write however and whatever I want. For a publication — particularly a print one — you better learn. It also teaches you the value of being edited. No copy is too precious that an editor won’t whack it in half or take our your overly florid language. A good editor will make it a LOT better. Help them. Help yourself. Self edit.
Write all the time.
I saw a quote recently that said, “The hardest part of writing is the writing.” Get used to it. Learn to write quickly (with accuracy) and editors will love you. You do this through practice, even if it is just writing for yourself. Any creative endeavor requires time sitting and practicing. I used to sit and play the bass for hours and hours. I’ve done the same with writing. It’s like training for a marathon. If you can’t write one story in a day, how could you possibly churn out multiple blog posts in an afternoon? That happens…frequently.
Read all the time.
I never gained a great love of reading like my fiancée and my father, to name a couple. A child of the original video game era, I preferred things I could do with more than just my eyes and brain. But, reading newspapers, blogs, publications of all kinds is hugely important. To use the musician analogy again, most of them become great through emulation of their idols. Writers grow in much the same way.
Be well rounded.
While covering the editor desk at the Houston Press, I’ve run across interns and freelancers who only want to write about one thing and in one way. That’s not how the world of writing works. To become a niche expert, you either have to BE an expert in that area (former football player writing about football, a surgeon writing about gall bladder operations, etc) or you have to have written about it nearly exclusively for a LONG time. Read the news. Understand politics. Gain some insight into healthcare and education. Follow sports. Visit museums and learn about the arts. Not only will it make you a better and more interesting writer, it will make you a better person.
Be willing to take jobs no one else will.
The way to work your way up in any organization is to be willing to do the dirty work. General managers in sports started as equipment managers. Famous producers started by sweeping the floors of recording studios. Directors got their starts as errand boys on movie sets. The grunt work of journalism is often writing boring crime stories or re-organizing press releases. But do it well, efficiently and without complaint and you’ll be in position for other opportunities. I know you might think you are above it, but you aren’t.
Learn how to research and interview people.
Probably the single most frustrating thing about journalism students is their inability and unwillingness to do real reporting. It means going out and talking to people, doing research and allowing the story to tell itself without your conclusions. Too many want to just read a story and then riff on its contents. This is not real reporting. If you become a skilled interviewer, it will not only put you ahead of your peers early on, but it will make you a better listener and basically a better human being.
Thanks Dictionary word of the day!
1. “Carouse” is a noun? Who knew?
2. I thought Brannigan was Laurie’s last name. GLORIA!!!
Every Thursday, I post about the things that I love, and God only knows what those things might be.
Anyone who knows me has probably wanted to slap me in the face at least once for my prolific quoting of movies, lyrics, famous sayings, books, bathroom wall graffiti, dog barks, car alarms and other important noises.
I started to wonder what the deal is with my love of quotes and I realize it’s really just an extension of three other things I love:
I’ve always been a word nerd. My dad was a journalism major with a masters in English. One of his brothers and his sister were journalism majors. I was a journalism major in college and have friends still working as writers. More than words (don’t start singing it!), I love a good turn of a phrase, which is why I tend to admire even goofy lyricists.
David Lee Roth wrote the lyric once, “And the meek shall inherit shit,” which to this day makes me laugh for no apparent reason.
I stumped an entire college English department when I asked them to tell me what you call two words that are spelled the same but sound different and have different meanings: i.e. wound (an injury) and wound (past tense of wind). I got that from a lyric too.
Language is fascinating to me because it is a living entity. In the movie Stargate, James Spader said, “It hasn’t been a living spoken language in over 1000 years” in describing an ancient language found on another planet. That always struck me as amazing that a language could die unless it is used. See, I can even come up with a quote for THAT! It’s a sickness, I tells ya’.
Humor is also an important part of who I am. My dad knew seemingly every good joke ever told and he loved telling them. He also loved hearing new one’s and retelling them over and over. My whole family has a good sense of humor and there are days when I’m kinda funny too. Shut up.
Lastly, wisdom is something that interests me. I really don’t care too much about rote knowledge. I like trivial knowledge because it is mostly worthless and a huge drain on my time, but the basic bricks and mortar of how things work is pretty boring for me. But, if there is wisdom in it, particularly something that strikes me as clever or poignant, it has my rapt attention.
Put the three together in any combination and you can get some pretty amazing quotes. Things like:
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
“It’s good to have a loving, caring, close knit family…in another city.”
“If everything you’ve ever done is wrong, the opposite must be right.”
“You can go to hell. As for me, I’m going to Texas.”
“You motor boating son of a bitch. You old sailor!”
“Rock stars. Is there anything they don’t know?”
All great quotes that I love. There are hundreds more. What makes them great is context. If you can figure out how to fit them into a conversation where they actually make sense, BONUS! Sure, it will annoy the hell out of some people, but those it doesn’t will find you infinitely fascinating. They won’t, but you can tell yourself they do and it will be easier because you have a snappy comeback for them if they gripe.
Of course, quoting every line of a movie or tv show as it is rolling might make someone want to punch you in the throat, so you may want to tone that down a bit, but, otherwise quote your ass off. Not literally, cause that would hurt.
Gimme some of your favorite quotes. Maybe I’ll use them and not give you any credit! And there’s nothing you could do to stop me because they don’t have verbal plagiarism laws, do they, smart guy? Sorry, what?
It’s tough to imagine one article containing a list of buzzwords so foul they require an entire blog post, but sometimes, shit just happens.
Matt Groening used to publish a list of “Forbidden Words” for the new year. Those lists included words and phrases like “win-win,” “upskirt,” “leverage,” “booty call” and “paradigm.”
Groening would have LOVED this article from AdAge. In it, I found at least eight words and/or phrases that immediately find a comfortable spot among words I think should never be used.
The practice of combining words and names has really gotten out of hand. I thought Brangelina was the worst, but calling someone a brandividual is really almost grounds for an ass kicking. It’s supposedly a combination of a person who works for a company (or brand), but carries his/her own personality into the promotion of that company. It’s really more like a science experiment gone horribly wrong where the person merged with the brand claims the super power of annoying the shit out of everyone by talking about social networking constantly.
I have never liked the concept of a personal brand. I feel like I should sell sponsorships and just walk around with stickers from GoDaddy and Uniroyal taped to my ass and forehead – you know, the high visual traffic areas…ahthankyou!
Web 2.0 Persona
The idea of an online persona has been around as long as nerds have been able to speak Klingon to one another on the usenet, but this new 2.0 version of the persona is far more insidious than just some nerd in his mom’s basement telling a guy he’s going to bat’leth him to death on a blood soaked field of honor. This persona would seem to indicate that your “personal brand” is nothing more than schtick to better hock your wares to an unsuspecting audience. It’s used car sales, but without the porn stache and leisure suit…unless you also happen to be a hipster.
Social Media Equity
Next time you need to re-finance or just get a loan, I dare you to go into the bank and tell them you’d like to use your Social Media Equity as collateral. Maybe you could film getting dragged out of the bank by security on your cell phone and upload it to YouTube!
Another hideous word combination that makes me want to call Lou Grant and Ed Bradlee to have them find the moron that came up with the word and beat him senseless with a bottle of scotch and a copy of the Sunday New York Times.
In the story, this is actually someone’s JOB TITLE!! VP-Experience Design!!! Are you fucking kidding me? What does he do, create the kiddie rides at Disneyland? Actually, I think that was the head of that company in Total Recall that jacked up Gov. Terminator’s memories and forced him to be married to Sharon Stone. That was awesome.
I didn’t realize Twitter was haunted. Perhaps its the ghost of self-important douchebags past. He could help a lot of people.
I know a lot of you think that you are uber cool because you have 2000 followers on Twitter, 10,000 Facebook friends and a blog that gets you virtually laid, but you are NOT famous. Tiger Woods is famous. Paul McCartney is famous. Barack Obama is famous. You are just a nerd a lot of people in the nerd world know. The day you get quoted in emails sent to me from my mom, you give me a call. Until then, find another term, because you ain’t famous, Sparky.
Feel free to add any words you’d like to the list. I’m sure you can come up with some of your own.
Language is our friend. It helps us to curse at people and say sarcastic things behind their backs. It gives us the ability to tell our children how much they’ve disappointed us and our partners that our love for them has grown dry like a cactus in the heart of the desert. See how poetic that is!
Language is so important, in fact, that people have formed groups to protect it. In the case of one town in Great Britain, they have run afoul of the Apostrophe Protection Society even though their decision to remove the vile punctuation mark from their street signs got the approval of both the Plain English Society and Plain Language Commission.
I’m sure your thinking, “Jesus, Jeff, what did the apostrophe ever do to you?” Well, I’ll tell you, that damn punctuation mark KILLED MY BROTHER!
Ok, that’s not true, but it sounds better than telling you the truth – I NEVER LEARNED HOW TO READ!
Anyway, with all these language societies and me being a giant word nerd, I thought it might be a good idea to tell you about some pertinent articles written by and talks given by language groups that may help you to better appreciate words and stuffs.
Freelipses: Leaving Your Reader Hanging While Setting Them Free
A is For Everything
A,B,C,D Eat My Shorts: How Fascist Conformists Force the Alphabet on Us All (by Alphabet City, the radical wing of the militant Spell Free or Die Society)
Semi-Colons Are Punctuation Marks Too; The Colon’s Sad Little Step Brother and Why He Needs You
Periods: A Man’s Guide to a Woman’s Punctuation Mark
The Dangling Participle and You
The Umlat – It’s Not Just for the Filthy, Filthy Germans
Being Past Perfect: You Had Thought You Knew Everything About This Tense
Yo Soy El Tilde: El Tilde is Spanish for…The Tilde
Who’s your buddy? Who’s your pal? I am. But really, I’m not. But language totally is! Remember that. Yeah, and don’t fear the reaper, which reminds me, why do blue oysters get their own cult? What the hell is so special about blue oysters anyway? I don’t even think they are real. Goddamn metal bands and their fancy spandex.
Anyway, now you have so new information so get out there and write. WRITE, YOU FOOLS!