Editors Dish: What They Want New Freelance Writers to Understand…

by Jamie Cattanach  on The Write Life site:

“… So you mean I have to call him?”

Few people in the office understood my reticence to pick up the phone and ask someone some questions. It would only take a couple of minutes, after all, and it was critical to the story.

But I hadn’t gravitated toward the written word because of my loquaciousness and charm. On the contrary: The solitary nature of writing was a huge part of why it always seemed to suit this introverted nerd.

Having just taken my first big-girl position as a staff writer for The Penny Hoarder, however, I quickly learned I’d need to find my voice — like, my spoken one — if I wanted to make it in the industry. Interviewing sources was non-negotiable if I wanted to keep writing for a paycheck.

I wasn’t about to give up that hard-won title; I’d never really believed I’d ever get it in the first place. So I looked up a few articles about how to conduct effective phone interviews, took a deep breath, and started dialing.

How writing is different on the professional level

Interviewing was only one of a set of journalistic skills I had to learn on the fly.

I’d double-majored in English and philosophy as an undergrad and spent a year studying poetry at the Master’s level, so I was no stranger to putting words on paper. But many aspects of this new type of writing eluded me.

For one thing, I was really long-winded. And AP style was a calculus I couldn’t fathom. (I still can’t understand how they possibly decided the correct spelling is “drive-thru.”)

But over time, I was able to learn to think like a journalist — or at least get better at it.

I figured out how to maintain objectivity and avoid inserting myself into my prose. I picked up on the inverted pyramid and learned how to properly identify sources by their titles.

Soon, I found myself conducting interviews nerves-free — or, OK, nearly. I could turn around an urgent, timely post in 15 minutes flat, like a real newsroom pro.

It took time, patience, and a lot of fantastic mentorship and coaching; I’m truly indebted to the incredible writers I worked with.

But, man — wouldn’t it have been nice to know about some of the most common errors ahead of time?

Find out more at:

What editors wish untrained writers knew

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