Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Reporting’

Getting Inspired by Interns

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm on June 30, 2013 at 11:00 am

Shelley gathers notes at an annual toy show while working as a reporter. (Photo by Steve Stoner)

Shelley gathers notes at an annual toy show while working as a reporter. (Photo by Steve Stoner)

I moonlight as a poet and writer, but during my day job I work as a reporter, writing features articles

My problem is I experience the occasional burnout or writer’s block.

I get burned out because news writing involves a great deal of brainwork.

There’s critical thinking, numbers analysis, writing, explaining, putting difficult concepts into simpler terms and organizing notes into something logical and readable that follows the structure of news or features stories.

The burnout comes when I can’t think of how to be creative or tell the story or figure out what to do with my notes.

So I look to the interns in our office.

Why?

They are excited about the fact they are in the newsroom. They are eager to cover each and every story they are assigned. And they want to work, and for free.

If I’m feeling a little tired from the daily grind, I pretend I’m an intern with that same level of enthusiasm. I get to cover this or that, how lucky for me!

I pretend I have not experienced the fire or the event I’ve covered a million times.

What is different that I have not seen, heard or felt before? Is there a new way of looking at the story’s setting, a detail I hadn’t noticed before or a question I didn’t think to ask? Is there some angle I haven’t covered, or a story I haven’t told because it wasn’t immediately apparent?

Telling myself this is new, as it is for interns, opens my vision so that I notice and experience things in a different way.

I become curious and questioning, explorative and wondering.

In other words, I become a fully engaged reporter, loving the process of interviewing, researching, learning, reporting and writing.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 24, 2013 at 11:30 am

My relationship with writing seems to be hot and cold.

I have a daytime writing job as a newspaper reporter and moonlight as a yet-to-be-published novelist. I love writing, getting lost in putting sentences together and finding the right words to express my thoughts and ideas, but I also hate it.

Writing can seem like an ongoing chore that never gets done, a homework assignment with a scary deadline or a puzzle with the pieces anywhere but nearby. It is something that I have to do but don’t want to do, am tired of doing or don’t know how to do beyond what I’ve already been doing.

In other words, I get stuck in my own writing habits and approaches to crafting sentences toward the finished product, experiencing a bit of burnout.

When this happens at work, I can’t think of how to write the lead (I have a mental block of needing the lead first to organize the unfolding of the rest of the article); I don’t know how to be original about something I’ve written before; or I can’t figure out the best way to organize my notes from multiple sources providing a vast amount of information.

My burnout at home comes from finishing a project and not knowing what to write next or feeling tired from writing at work and wanting a break.

The constant immersion allows for something that I wouldn’t get from writing only news articles or only novels and short stories. It cross-pollinates skills from one type of writing to the other.

I’ve learned how to apply the elements of writing, such as plot, setting and character, to what I write in the newsroom. I try to pick out the most exciting aspect of a story, select a few details of the environment in which it takes place and figure out who I’m interviewing by what they keep in their office, as well as how they use language and interact with me.

I try to avoid word echoes, or word repetitions, which journalists tend to do, and search for a better word choice if my sentences have the echoes or sound too similar to one another.

And I listen to how the language of my story sounds, concerned not just with the message but how the words feel on the tongue and in the ear.

With my fiction writing, I write as if on deadline as quickly as I can just to get the words out. Journalism writing is fairly formulaic, so the organizational tools I use in writing news articles comes out in my other writing. I think of what I want to say first and let the rest unfold from there, not trying to over think descriptions and character interactions.

Plus, all of the writing is becoming a habit. I write like I eat. I know how to do it, but when I stop to think about each bite, I enjoy the savoring of it.