A Life Lesson I Learned about Writing

I’ve been a reader my whole life.  I don’t know how many books I’ve read or how many nights I’ve forced my eyelids to stay open so I could finish the chapter I was on. (Good practice for those late nights studying in college.) Nothing gets me quite as animated as going to used bookstores, seeing pictures of the Library of Congress or lying in my hammock on a breezy summer day with a good book between my hands.

Despite all that reading, I never dreamed of becoming a writer. I knew I didn’t have the skill set it takes to make it.

But here I am, majoring in journalism. We tell stories for a living, for crying out loud.

So when I read “Life supports art,” in Stephen King’s book “On Writing” on Wednesday, I paused for a moment.  Your writing desk shouldn’t be in the center of the room he says. It should be in a corner.

You have to live well to write well.

King hits three main points about writing well:

1.  Write with honesty.

2. Write about what you know (make sure you do your research if you don’t know.)

3. Don’t be afraid to say what you know is true.

It takes some guts to write honestly. It takes guts to follow the truth. Now, I don’t see myself becoming a fiction writer anytime soon, but King’s advice is golden for journalists. We have the responsibility, lovely and weighty, of creating news (it’s not picked off a tree. There’s research, reporting, writing and a heck of a lot of editing when it comes down to this) that involves real people and real contexts.

We’re part biographers, part historians, part cultural critics, part advocate and at the core we are story tellers. All writers use narration, description and dialogue.

Good storytelling is an art form that takes practice. If you don’t read a lot and write a lot, you’ll never get better, King says.

You can’t write good dialogue without talking with others and paying attention to what they say and how they say it.

You can’t write well about something you don’t know much about. Your readers will see right through that, and so will your editors.

You can’t describe a setting well if you don’t pay attention to the smell, the lighting, the colors, the sounds, the atmosphere, the sensation the first touches you when you walk into a room or see the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Life’s a story we write, right? Then really, there’s no secret to writing. You just have to live.


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