“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” Charles Bukowski, German-American poet, The Last Night of the Earth Poems
Deadlines and the need of a newsroom for each writer to pull his or her own weight have a remarkable way of eliminating writer’s block. Journalists don’t have it.
I don’t just suspect this. I know this is true. For one, newspapers go out day after day — never perfect, but without that much of a hitch. Secondly, a piece I did for an academic journal meant I once had the unusual opportunity of interviewing my entire newsroom as to how pro-writers produce so much work at such great speed.
It turns out, we all did the same three things to meet deadlines. Here they are:
- The cut-and-paste method. Much of the time involved in creating any newspaper or magazine story is collecting information. This could be done by internet research, interviewing, attending a meeting etc. Whatever the source, a journalist comes to the computer screen with a notebook or tape recorder full of info and quotes. The fastest way to turn this raw material into a publishable work is to keystroke everything in — including the “color” impressions more commonly associated with fiction. All you really need at this point is some skilled cutting and pasting.
- The zero-in method. Many journalists will spend time staring at their blank screen at the start of a story. This may look like writer’s block, but it isn’t. The writer is intensely focusing on the lead sentence. Once he or she has that, the story is basically thought through and can flow onto the screen at high speed.
- The start-wherever/trigger method. Sometimes, you just can’t get a lead sentence, but there is a section of the story that’s a no-brainer. Perhaps it’s a government story that includes tax-assessment background that is cut and dried; or it’s a feature on a musical that will end with show times and ticket info. Get that part on the screen, no matter where it will appear in the story. The presence of polished text starting back at you somehow triggers the rest.