As I write this, I am experiencing what can only be described as some kind of post-uni limbo: fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to work as a sportswriter for a national newspaper (a job I’ve craved from an early age), but not yet long enough in the job to have shaken off the ‘new guy’ tag.
By my own admission, and also by the very nature of being a graduate amongst some seasoned, battle-hardened journalists, I’m also highly impressionable. That need not be a bad thing, mind you. An absorbent, sponge-like mind can be of great value when so many colleagues offer you tales of yesteryear in the newsroom; a time when editorial budgets actually existed. So, naturally, various little trinkets of advice will be put forth and it‘s up to you to make the distinction between fact and fiction, between reality and romantic embellishment.
So, if I have taken one thing from these my fledgling days in the industry then, for want of a better phrase, it is this: get to the point!
We live in an age of ever-increasing editorial constraints, with emphasis now placed on ads rather than copy as the revenue they generate is the lifeblood of newspapers. I’m in the somewhat unique position in that I combine my writing with sub-editing duties, so I have first-hand experience of how ruthless you sometimes have to be in cutting and editing copy. It could be a wonderfully insightful piece you’re subbing, a really high quality feature length interview, but space constraints in the newspaper might mean you have to cut it by anything up to two or three hundred words. What a shame, right?
So what’s the solution? A solution to save your copy being cut to the extent that you actually lose the crux of the piece itself. Well, yeah, get to the point, basically. It was a criticism levelled at me so often during my final few months at uni (and rightly so). That Venezuelan maverick musician-come-journalist extraordinaire Eddy Borges-Rey implored me (and sometimes in rather more colourful language) to basically hurry up and say what I was going to say while writing my dissertation; don’t take two paragraphs to make your point when one will comfortably suffice. And how grateful I now am for him helping me get into that routine of essentially subbing my own copy before I file it for the actual subbing process to begin in earnest.
And not only that, but it also improves the quality of your writing if you can make it more succinct and clear. Consider this as an example:
One way you can improve your writing is by reducing the length of what you actually write.
You can improve your writing by reducing its length.
Improve your writing – reduce length.
All three of those sentences convey the same fundamental message yet are markedly different in length.
And on that note, and in keeping with the whole point of this blog post, I feel that is an appropriate thought to end on.