So what? First question a writer must answer

So what, my editor used to ask more often than I care to remember.

One of the best lessons I ever learned as newbie reporter was to submit your work to editing before you ever write a word. My city editor at the time used to snag us as we hurried back in from being on assignment before we could get to our desk.

“What’s the point of your story?” he’d drawl.

I quickly learned to have use the drive to collect my thoughts and organize my story knowing he’d be waiting when I got back. I also learned what he expected as an answer. In less than 30 seconds he expected me to rattle off what the point of the story was, what would be the top, middle and bottom, and how long the story would be when I finished. Some reporters never got it. They’d go on and on about all they learned reporting and the vein on the city editor’s bald head would bulge, the toothpick in his mouth would spin as his teeth ground down, and his eyes would droop into a hooded mast, like sails with no wind. Finally he’d wave a hand.

“Shut up,” he’d say. “I asked you what the point of the story was, not every note in that damn notepad of yours. Now tell, precisely what … is… the … point… of … your… story?”

It could be nerve-wracking, particularly if I hadn’t taken the time to sort it out in my mind. But I learned this rigorous mental editing would be the best predictor of the eventual clarity, strength and effectiveness of the story. It’s a technique I still use more often that not, and the poor results show on those “not” times when I skip the step.

In writing, there are no skipped steps. It’s beautiful, creative, inspiring and artistic. It’s worthy of our best efforts. But’s it is also a lot like the work I did as a landscaper laying sprinkler pipe: long slogs of hard work digging dirt out putting pipe in, gluing pipe and covering it back up. Skip any step and serious, expensive problems would arise soon enough. Writing is like that. Long hard slogs, with no skipped steps that achieves something pretty wonderful when completed. As a writing coach, I help you learn these and many other steps I learned along the way. I stop you in your haste and help you do the work and cheer you on when it bogs down and sift your prose for the gems within until it all comes together in, as the masterful book by Strunk and White says, a vigorous, concise, story well told.

If you want to learn more, click here, for my free consultation.

And above else remember: writer something today, or as my old managing editor would say, “We are writers. We write. Every day. Go do it.”

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