This week is National Newspaper Week – a time to consider how important newspapers have been – and still are – to our society and our country. Before the Internet, before Facebook and Twitter – before we could access what’s happening all over the world with just a few keystrokes on our computers and iPads – old-fashioned print newspapers were our primary means of keeping tabs on our world.
And while even newspapers these days are publishing on the Internet, I think the print versions are still important, and will remain important for years into the future. Information can be lost in cyberspace. A storm on the sun could conceivably set our technology back into the Stone Age. But words on paper are durable. It’s still possible to access back issues of many newspapers and read what happened 25 … 50 … 100 years or more ago.
There’s another reason, for me, to celebrate this week. I’ve been a newspaper reporter for well over 30 years now. Nearly half my life. And while I won’t say that newspaper experience is essential if you want to write books …
I will say it’s darned helpful.
Newspaper work taught me the importance of meeting deadlines. Nearly everybody in this business of writing has deadlines. Deadlines to post guest blogs, deadlines to post your own blogs, deadlines set by publishers. Our own self-imposed deadlines – as in, I will write 1,000 words today …
Newspapers taught me to write every day – no matter how I feel. I’ve heard would-be writers say, “I didn’t get anything written today. My muse didn’t show up.”
Newspaper editors don’t believe in muses. They don’t care if your muse is taking the day off. They want you planted in that chair, writing your story, and hang the muse!
Interviewing people – or covering meetings – gave me whatever ear I have for dialog. People don’t always speak in complete sentences. With few exceptions, they use contractions. One method I’ve used to give Tevis Mac Leod, the elf detective in my books, a distinct voice is … Tevis never uses contractions. He usually speaks in complete sentences, and he’ll say “I do not believe you” rather than “I don’t believe you.”
Newspapers taught me the importance of communicating with your reader. As a reporter, you aren’t just relaying information to a reader. You’re breaking down that information, if necessary, into words your reader can understand. Your news sources don’t always want to be understood. You run into those people who hide truth behind $25 words that are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t have a PhD.
If you, as a reporter, don’t understand what someone has just said, then chances are most of your readers won’t either. It’s your responsibility to keep asking questions, keep probing, until that statement becomes something that at least the majority of your readers will “get”.
Communicating is key in my vocabulary. I write my Portals books to entertain. I’m a storyteller, shaping my tales in written rather than oral form. I’m not out to enrich anyone’s vocabulary or share deep philosophical thoughts about the world or the universe. So I try for a style that’s easy to read. I love that I have readers as young as 10, and that they can understand my books as readily as the senior citizen crowd.
One of the high points of my career came last year when the Paranormal Romance Guild, which reviewed Shadow Path – book 1 in my series – after its release as an ebook, named it a Reviewer’s Choice award-winner in the Young Adult category.
Whatever success I’ve achieved so far, I credit a major share of it to my years of writing for newspapers.
So … a Shout-out for National Newspaper Week! May they always enrich our lives.