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Reading is part of the job – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Jul 052006
 

“A writer must also read. Voraciously. The things others have done will serve as points of departure for his own work. He must read the classics and the daily newspaper, slick magazines and old yellowing pulps, handbills passed out by street partisans, the backs of cereal boxes” (William Ruehlmann in Stalking the Feature Story). So why do I always feel guilty when I’m reading? There is always this niggling voice in the back of my head that I’m a writer, and writing is what I should be doing. But as Ruehlmann stated I must also read.

This quote is in the book The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing in “The Mystery of Ideas.” Jack El-hai goes on to say that there is always more to the story than is being reported and has some questions to ask of a piece that has drawn your attention:

  • Who are the people most affected by this news? Who stands to gain and lose?
  • What person or group is at the center of these events?
  • How have the personal qualities of the people involved affected the outcome?
  • How and why did this happen? What might these events lead to?
  • Has this happened before?
  • What’s the problem here, what are some possible solutions, and who might be able to provide those solutions?
  • How does this news make you feel? Why?
  • Why should anyone care about this? Who would care about this?
  • Is this news part of a trend? (pp. 43-4).

El-hai goes to say that a writer’s job is to ask the questions that intrigue you the most and then go with them and see where they lead you. The writer’s own curiosity will give him or her ideas for new stories that may have only been touched on in the original story. Part of my job is reading, and doing what I’ve always done: read whatever I can get my hands on. Now I need to start asking questions and see where my reading takes my writing.

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  One Response to “Reading is part of the job”

  1. […] This led me back to a chapter I read in The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing about ideas. One of the sections of the chapter was on asking questions of your reading. When you read a news article or magazine feature, or something in a book that caught your attention–got your curiosity–you were to ask questions. Not everything that could be said about that person, organization, or situation was in that piece. Ask questions–what wasn’t there? What aspect of the story was glossed over in a line that needs its own story? “Questions lie at the heart of many of the best story ideas. Your job is to select the questions that intrigue you the most and run with them” (p. 45). […]

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