I assumed – perhaps naively, perhaps foolishly, perhaps idiotically – that my 30-plus years in daily journalism would give me a leg up on this fiction writing game.
After all, I know how to write a clean sentence and I always meet deadlines. Really, what more is there? Apparently, a lot.
It helps with this:
- Fourth grade stuff: Grammar, spelling, subject-object-verb.
- Research and organization of large quantities of information.
- Awareness that errors WILL occur.
- Familiarity with, if not acceptance of, intrusive editing.
- Deadlines: Meet ’em, period.
It does not help with this:
- Long form: 20,000, 50,000, 75,000, 100,000 words. Those are books, not just collections of stories.
- Plot continuity (and interest) over a long narrative.
- Character and plot consistency.
The editor I hired to critique two of my manuscripts would agree and might even add more items.
One More Thing
Author John Sandford reminds me there might have been one other thing I got out of journalism. In an interview with Writer’s Digest (November/December 2014 edition), he says:
The major benefit of working in journalism is the stuff you get to see. I think a lot of writers – young writers – don’t know enough. It’s simply that they haven’t been around long enough. They just don’t have enough references in their head yet. One thing that journalism does is it gives you all that stuff in a hurry, so that if you’re a general assignment reporter like I was for most of my career … you’ll see crime scenes, you’ll do feature stories on all kinds of things. … You pack all this stuff into your head.
That got me to unpacking some of the stuff in my head, like:
- Having a pistol pointed at me by an angry immigration official.
- Watching a soldier die at my feet as we circled an airfield waiting for a place to land.
- Sitting in a conference room with two sources, both of whom have placed their semi-automatic pistols discretely onto the chairs beside them.
- Looking at laundry records inside the very high walls of a maximum security prison hoping to nail the warden in a small, but telling, act of corruption.
Yeah, I think some of those experiences might be worth including in a work of fiction some day, just like the day I fell out of the neighbor’s basement window and broke my arm; or the time I mistimed my jump over a stone wall and gave myself a permanent pair of buck teeth, and the time …