I’ve been writing for the South African gaming website, EGMR (or eGamer), for the past five years. I’ve learnt an enormous amount from the whole experience – in fact it would be difficult to even describe how much I’ve changed and grown from these years and my time with the website. Now, today’s topic came about while I was spending my time reading and learning more about self-publishing and indie authors. I’ve seen many writers unsure of where to begin their journey, and aside from telling them “just start writing”, which is an entirely sound piece of advice, I felt that with my past experience journalism is an ideal beginning point.
Perhaps that sounds rather strange if you’re one of those who have a low opinion of the media. I’m often one of them, so that’s not to say you’re wrong or anything like that. It isn’t all bad though, and ideally when I say journalism I am referring to something more casual than corporate. That’s part of the reason I love writing for EGMR so much. There’s passion for the work, friendship and everyone is in it to help each other. I’m straying from the point though. Ideally, you want to work somewhere where you can be an individual.
Why journalism though? Well, there are a great many reasons I can provide, but I’ll try to condense the most important ones over the next few paragraphs.
The first lesson I learnt from journalism was how to summarise information. You may think of this as trivial, but it is often an essential part of writing. You may have a wonderful way with words, and you may have the best argument there is – but unless your content is deeply interesting, deeply controversial or you’ve got devoted or hardcore readers, not many will want to wade through thousands of words of information. Journalism teaches you how to take information that may even be boring and present it to your readers in a succinct and approachable way.
After honing this skill, you’ll find that when actually writing your stories, you will be able to summarise better and take the “less is more” approach where necessary. Sure, it’s not a perfect science, because I myself love to have long paragraphs describing the psychological impact of something or exploring harsh emotions for a build-up. We all love to write what we believe in. But this skill is invaluable when doing your edits and trimming down.
This may sound funny, but Twitter is yet another place that can help you get right to the point. Having a very limited number of characters to play with can help you remove all sorts of fluff and redundancy from your paragraphs. Tweeting is useful for this purpose.
The next vital lesson I learned from journalism is how to work on deadline. Now, while you probably won’t have deadlines with your writing unless you are affiliated with a traditional publisher, working on deadlines can directly help you with setting personal deadlines for yourself. For instance, if you’re used to working on deadline or within a small time window (news gets old and loses relevancy quickly), you’ll be able to push yourself and set plenty of short-term goals to make progress with your writing. There were nights where I said “by morning I will have finished chapter X”, and I was able to push myself to achieve that.
That leads me to the next critical benefit – perhaps one of the most important of all. Journalism teaches you how to edit. Any writer will tell you that after your initial process of thinking up ideas and refining them and actually writing and so on, editing happens not once, but multiple times during the writing process. You will continuously edit your work. Whether it’s structural mistakes, typos, grammar or plot errors, you’ll always find ways to edit. If you’ve been writing for six months, by the time you reach month six the things you wrote in month one will stand out as needing an edit. Editing makes your work professional, and it is one of the most important aspects of writing. The worst thing for a reader is experiencing something filled with errors or senseless mistakes that could have been easily avoided.
A few tiny errors can be forgivable in the grand scheme of things, and everyone has their own style when it comes to punctuation or presentation, but you’ll want to edit to the best of your ability and journalism teaches you how to do this.
With the internet, there are opinions everywhere at any time, and in a volume so large it’s hard to keep up. Journalism taught me an invaluable skill – and that is getting used to having my opinions received and commented on by a widespread and diverse audience. I am a new writer of actual books. I’m twenty and I’ve just self-published my first book, The Sorrow. That is to say I know exactly how new writers feel – the nervousness and anxiety that comes with finally having others receive your work. Prior to publishing The Sorrow, only my significant other has read the book. I have no idea how others will find it. But I have a confidence. I don’t have any arrogance about it at all. I’m positive, but I’m realistic about where I am right now. But the point is that journalism has prepared me for how to deal with opinions on the internet.
You’ll get great fans who support you no matter what. You’ll get extremely helpful people who genuinely want to see you improve, even if their comments are harsh. You’ll get people who care. You’ll get people who don’t care one bit. You’ll get haters. And you’ll get people who say incredibly nasty things without trying to help you get better.
You’ll find all kinds of people on the internet, but journalism prepared me for every single one of them. If you’re exposed to it enough, you learn to develop thick skin so that the comments don’t dishearten you or de-motivate you, but can give you a drive to do better. It’s about channelling something negative into something positive. It’s invaluable when you can do it.
A shorter but still very relevant point is that journalism can teach you how to get into routines and develop a work ethic and consistency about it. This goes a long way in helping to combat the infamous “writer’s block”, because if you learn to love writing you’ll most of the time be able to just sit down and do it without needing grand inspiration.
This leads me to my final point. Journalism, at least where I work, taught me how to think up original topics on a consistent basis. Often there is no news out there worth reporting on, or you want to address something going on inside your head. Journalism gave me the opportunity to not just critically evaluate and research, but actually construct my opinions and come up with discussion ideas when needed. Your mind will always be partly on your writing, so even so much as a casual table discussion could lead to inspiration for a topic you can write on. I experienced this just yesterday actually, and the conversation at the table became my article for today.
Naturally, this is a powerful asset when it comes to creativity, inventing narratives and thinking up plot ideas. If you’re trying to be creative and come up with things to talk about on a daily basis, you’ll find that thinking up ideas for your stories becomes a more natural and even easier process.
Drawing to a close, if I had to advise a would-be writer or a beginner on where to start their journey, I would pick journalism. If you’re in the right working environment with the right people the rewards can be enormous, and it can really help you grow as a writer.