Random thoughts on writing

[T]here is something in journalism called the can.

No, not the toilet.

It’s the place, in my experience most likely some sort of file or desktop folder, where writers keep stories they’ve decided to save for a slow news day.

I toiled seven years in print journalism, and there were a lot of days I just didn’t want to write or wondered whether there would be enough words to write to fill the paper.

One of the things I learned early in my journalism career was if I would like to receive a paycheck, the paper must be filled.

My bosses never liked my suggestion we fill it with crossword puzzles so the can saved my butt more than once.

I feel like now is a good time to tell you I have no idea where I’m going with this, and the time it takes you to read these words will be time you’ll never get back.

Today, I don’t want to write.

When I decided to put a renewed effort into somewhat-regular posts to this blog, I knew today would come.

I knew there’d be days when I had no spark, no idea and no word flow.

Last weekend, I planned to write a bunch of extra posts for such days.

Life doesn’t happen like I plan it.

Today’s original post is unfinished, saved as a draft and may never see the light of your screen.

This morning I found this post about milestones, and I decided to make a list of random thoughts about writing.


You cannot become a better writer unless you read.

Read as much as possible. Read as many types of writing as possible.

If you understand how different writers developed their styles and voices, it will be easier to learn to develop your own.  

Use your voice

Write the way you talk as much as you can.

Don’t be afraid to be personal sometimes.

Tell your readers stories about who you are and about your life.

It helps them relate to you better, and it helps them know you’re more than a face they see on a page every time you write a column about current events.

 Know what matters

I won a contest after I wrote an essay on Anastasia in elementary school, when the Disney version of the Romanov story hit the big screen. My class got to go see the movie.

Other than seven years of paychecks and the occasional state press association mention, the movie was the only win I’ve had from writing.

It was far from the only reward.

The best rewards I got from journalism were conversations and relationships with people I’d never have gotten to know otherwise.

We live in an age of social media influence, but real life isn’t about how many followers you have or how much money you make.

It’s about the impact you make on people.

The biggest rewards I got from my journalism career didn’t come from paychecks or (second-and-third-place) awards in a state-sponsored contest.

They came from talks I had with the people I interviewed and people who read my stories, because people matter.

Do your best

Do your best every day.

The rest will work itself out.

There will be times when people will respond well to your stories, and other times it will seem like they’ll go out of their way to complain about what you write.

Let them vent.

If you must read the comments, try not to take them personally.

Don’t let the good ones inflate your ego too much, and don’t let negative ones get you down too far.

Use them both to try to learn how you can be better.

Your best is all you can do, and it’s all anyone should ask of you.

If you’ve made it this far down the list, I’m sure at least one thing is clear.

I should have filled the can.

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