Shelley Widhalm

The Journalism-Poetry Connection

In Communication secrets, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 16, 2011 at 7:00 am

I don’t know how it happened but I use poetry when I write journalism and journalism when I write fiction.

Writing in two different disciplines provides a fertile ground for fresh writing, as well as a keener eye for editing.

I write a news or feature article following the upside down triangle formula I learned in the four journalism classes I took – put the most important information on top with a tie-in quote to conclude the article.

At first, I felt stiff and awkward writing within confines. But after a few years, I saw that I used material from my notes and my observations to weave in descriptions, quotes and the four W’s and H to tell what happened or to give both sides of a story.

I had stopped writing word after word, like a reader who learns how to read whole sentences and paragraphs in a glance. I began to hear my poetic voice call through the outer ridges of the formula, compelling me to listen.

Now, I write with my ear, trying to knead in rhythm into my use of language. I want what I write to have musicality alongside the message.

Writing fictional stories and novels influenced me to play with storytelling in my journalism – I try to describe settings and atmosphere, as well as provide a sense of plot in how I tell the story.

On the other side of the fulcrum, my journalism influences my fiction. I want to be tight and concise in my writing, whether it’s a poem or a story. I want to be accurate, so I do research to find the exact word or description I want to use. I’ve learned how to write fast (think deadline pressure), not giving credence to my critical editor’s voice until later.

With both disciplines, I’ve learned to notice and observe, to go deeper with my questions and curiosities, to listen not just to words but to the noise of life and to both play with and take seriously my love affair with words.

  1. “Now, I write with my ear” is the best description of getting inside the writing process and trusting the results that i’ve heard in a long time. Beautifully written and expressed.

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