|On assignment, 1999|
When I took Mark Wood’s advice, I had no idea it would impact more than my career.
Mark was my work-study supervisor. When I asked him what was the best way to become a good writer, he said, “Spend a few years in a newsroom.”
As I began reporting for a hometown daily, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into—mercurial editors, deadlines measured in minutes and colleagues addicted to red proofreader pens. And did I mention the crazy hours and appalling pay? Mark was right, though; I was learning how to write quickly and with confidence.
When I finally turned in my reporter’s notebook, to my surprise the lessons from the newsroom kept on coming. Each one enriched how I saw the world around me and communicated with others. With deep gratitude, I share the following:
- Be a good listener. Say less and listen more.
- Ask questions that don’t lead to a simple yes/no answer. When you avoid these types of questions, you’ll receive deeper, richer answers.
- Show genuine interest in others and their stories.
- Be persistent. The truth you seek is out there. You just might need to look for it behind an unexpected door.
- Even though five people have checked an article, don’t be surprised if you see a typo while reading the paper over your coffee the next morning. Mistakes happen. Once you’ve done all you can, learn from them but move forward. In the newsroom, we run a note apologizing for the error. It’s always appropriate to apologize briefly and sincerely then move forward with a plan that will help you do a better job next time.
- Expect feedback, and expect criticism. Lots of it. Expect you won’t make everyone happy and won’t be popular with everyone.
- Surround yourself with people who are passionate about what they do and who love sharing what they know.
- Go out and seek your own answers—don’t wait for others to tell you what to do and think.
- Notice the details. That's where the good stuff is.
- Always try to look at familiar things in a new way.
Maybe that’s what Mark had in mind, that being a good writer is more than knowing where to put your commas. It’s about being able to put your heart in the right place.
In addition to Mark, I dedicate this posting to Seabee journalists past, present and future; it’s been an honor to work with each of you.
Which of your jobs has had the most impact on you and why?