4 Ways a Journalist Can Help Creative Writers

A creative writer once referred to me as a “writing scientist.”

I laughed at the time. But the more I think of it, as a journalist, I am a writing scientist. My degree is a Bachelor of SCIENCE in Journalism. There is a science to being a reporter, but over the years, I’ve discovered there is more of a science to writing.

My career has revolved around journalism (I started as a newspaper reporter), and more recently, writing for marketing and social media. Yet my roots are engrained in creativity. I’ve returned to those roots lately and discovered how my “writing scientist” background actually improves my creative writing.

Here are five ways a journalist’s training can help any creative writer improve his or her work:

1. Intrigue the reader immediately in 30 words or less.

In journalism, we’re trained to write a “lead” to every story. That’s the first sentence–it’s also the first paragraph–and it must be 30 words or less. But most importantly, the lead must catch the reader’s curiosity. If not, we lose that person for good.

Creative writers have the same task, but for different reasons. They want people to read their stories. However, if people are not enticed at the beginning, will they keep reading? I can think of countless books I’ve brushed aside because the beginning bored, or dragged, or “eased me” into the story.

Creative writers should start their novels and/or short stories the way journalists begin their articles: intriguing, and in 30 words or less.

2. Keep the story moving–don’t linger too long.

The average reader loses interest in an article after 500 words. Therefore, journalists need to cram as much information into those few paragraphs as possible, while keeping the story interesting.

Creative writers have more leeway. However, still keep the story moving. Writers will lose the reader’s sense of excitement if they spend too long describing a setting, or the way a character looks. Get the information in, then keep the story moving along.

3. Is the story newsworthy (a.k.a. unusual)?

A reporter will not write an article about a firefighter who saves a cat stuck in a tree. It’s cliché, and it’s nothing new. Yet, a journalist will write a story about a dog that saves a cat from a tree.

Why? It’s unusual.

And the bottom line is this: people want to read stories that are out-of-the-ordinary. Whether it’s in a newspaper, or a novel, this rule applies. Creative writers need to really think about their story. Has this been done before, in this way?

4. Write in Layman’s terms.

The average American reads at a 4th-5th grade level. Now, I’d imagine those who choose to read literary works of genius read at higher levels (I’d hope). Yet, if a creative writer explores a subject not known to the general public, make sure to explain what all those odd words mean.

Additionally, sometimes writing in Layman’s terms makes a story more entertaining to read. Complicated vocabulary doesn’t necessarily translate into better literature (ever listen to a PR hack blab for some company or politician?). What does equal better writing, however, is sentence structure and word choice.

With that in mind, good luck!

Like the advice I offer? Subscribe to my free blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications on new writing tips, short stories, and media lessons. As a professional writer/editor, journalist, media strategist and communications consultant, I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others grow.

No Experts in Social Media (but . . .)

In the midst of researching strategies to better your blog and its following, you run across a self-proclaimed “social media expert.” RUN! Run far, far away!

There are no experts in social media.

That’s because, no experts can exist in a field which the world is still trying to define. I’ve had several people ask me lately, “How can I better my blog and get people to follow me?” What you need are some lessons in social media strategy.

And while we don’t have experts in social media, we do have leaders—gurus. I’m talking about the people who’ve paved the way in a constantly evolving field.

So, I’m going to do two things here: First, I’ll list three “gurus” I urge you to follow, and why. Second, I’ll give you a few of my secrets to building a following on your blog.

3 Social Media Gurus to Know

  1. Gary Vaynerchuk. I cannot, cannot emphasize this man enough. Gary is one of the pioneers in social media marketing. Before most of the world even heard of “blogs,” he was creating “VLOGS.” Gary wrote a short, but deeply insightful book called “Crush It.” Reading this book helped me lay the foundation to my blog, as well as the strategy I used when helping develop my company’s social media marketing plan.
  2. Beverly Macy. Beverly teaches at UCLA and is the CEO of Gravity Summit Events and Consulting. I’ve met with Beverly in the past and she taught me some great strategies for social media measuring (a.k.a. knowing how to determine if you’re successful). Follow her on Twitter.
  3. Carol Tice. I discovered this great writer on Twitter. And boy, does she know her stuff! On her blog, Carol offers many amazing—and helpful—tips about building your credibility as a writer. She also talks about strategies to monetize off your blog, as well as your writing.

And now . . . my top 5 social media tips

Before I delve any further, know this. If you want to grow your blog, you MUST dedicate time and research to it. My blog’s readership is growing for one reason only: I took the time to read and educate myself on social media and writing strategies. I then pulled the pieces together for my own plan.

Remember, no experts in social media. But anyone can develop into a guru:

  1. Give your blog a theme. If your goal is to write and share photos only with family, then fine. However, if you want to build a following, your blog has to be ABOUT something. Notice the theme on mine, “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer.” And . . . I stick to it.
  2. Engage. The whole essence of social media is engaging with others. If someone comments on your blog, comment back. If they ask for advice, visit their site and leave a comment there. People want to know they’re being heard—by you.  
  3. Invite visitors to subscribe. People need a call to action. Therefore, prompt people to subscribe to your blog. Invite them at the end of your posts. Make the subscription box easily viewable at the top of your page. Following you should be an easy endeavor.  
  4. Simplicity. Your blog has to be easy to read and navigate. Don’t overload the eyes with too many widgets and columns.
  5. Accessibility. Be transparent. Do you have a tab on your blog inviting visitors to contact you? You should. And even if you don’t want to list an e-mail address, link visitors to Twitter or Linkedin.

 Like the advice I offer? Subscribe to my free blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications on new writing tips, short stories, and media lessons. As a professional writer/editor, journalist, media strategist and communications consultant, I enjoy sharing some expertise to help others grow.