Thursday, 3 May 2012

100 Things I've Learnt In 10 Years As a Features Writer

In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day today, I decided to list out 100 things I’ve learnt in the past ten years I’ve been a Features writer in the newspaper.

Bear in mind that these are mostly my own personal observations and lessons I have personally learnt, so it may not apply to all journalists. Over the past ten years, I’ve developed a routine to my work, and a certain way of doing things. Other journalists have their own styles of working as well. The items listed on this list is based on MY own personal style. It's not been smooth sailing all these years, and god knows I've made a lot of mistakes and learnt a lot of harsh lessons.

Also, a lot of this list more about the WRITING part of my job, and not so much the serious journalism part, so to many, it may seem more like a 100 things I learnt about FEATURES WRITING more than about journalism. I freewrote most of these, so there MIGHT be some repetitions as well.

Oh and one more thing. I have to stress AGAIN that these are my PERSONAL OPINIONS, and do not reflect the views of the newspaper I work in. If you have a beef against the newspaper, its owners or what it stands for in general, and wish to express your opinion about it... DON'T. Because I'll probably just delete your comment. Heh. Hey, it's MY BLOG.

So anyway, here are the 100 things I learnt in the past 10 years as a newspaper features writer:

  1. The intro is everything.
  2. If you’re stuck on your intro, do the rest of the story first, then the intro.
  3. Don’t be afraid to restructure or rewrite your entire article if you think it’s too boring
  4. Get your facts right.
  5. Be objective.
  6. If you can’t be objective about a subject, interview someone who can and use him in the story instead of using your own biased opinions.
  7. Get your bloody grammar right.
  9. If you think what you’ve written is boring, it probably is.
  10. There is no such thing as writer’s block.
  11. Writer’s block is just another name for procrastination.
  12. Write first, edit later.
  13. If you ARE stuck, just write down whatever you think of and then edit it later
  14. If you REALLY can’t think of anything to write, stop writing and do something else.
  15. Don’t just think of what to write. Think of what photos should go with the story as well.
  16. It’s a lot more fun to interview someone without writing notes.
  17. I really hate PR people who keep interrupting my interviews or try to make me ask questions THEY want me to ask.
  18. I tend to like PR people who at least take the time to find out how the newspaper works, how the process flows, and who the right people to call are.
  19. I REALLY HATE PR people bugging me about when a story will be published.
  20. If you’ve written a story using a particular angle before, think of another way to write it.
  21. Write what you know.
  22. You don’t need a super canggih Macbook to write. I’ve used my phone to write whole articles before.
  23. READ. Read A LOT. It’ll help you pick up stuff you can use in your articles later.
  24. A writer can be a blogger too.
  25. A blogger can be a writer too.
  26. Having a blog doesn’t automatically make you a writer.
  27. If you want to be a writer, write.
  28. There’s no point using a word if you don’t understand it.
  29. If in doubt, don’t use the damn word.
  30. PUNCTUATION!!!!!!
  31. Don’t be afraid to be creative with your words.
  32. Being creative doesn’t mean using words that no one has ever heard of.
  33. If you have to make up a word, make up a word.
  34. There IS no ‘right way’ to write. Every writer has his or her own style.
  35. Change happens. Accept it and MOVE ON.
  36. The average English reader in Malaysia has SPM level English. So keep your stories simple enough for them to understand (A mentor in the company actually told me this when I first joined).
  37. Learn how to say NO.
  38. Learn when to say YES.
  39. Even music lyrics and movies can be inspiring as well.
  40. Find the familiar in the unfamiliar and write about that.
  41. If you have to write what you DON’T know, at least keep it to what you DO know and make sure you understand it before making others read it.
  42. If you’re lifting something written by someone else, ask permission first. If permission is not needed, then at least give the original writer the credit for the line.
  43. Don’t plagiarise.
  44. Don't be too quick to dismiss the opinions of others. They might know something you don't.
  45. Don’t pretend to know more than you actually do.
  46. Don’t assume. MAKE SURE.
  47. Your readers are not stupid, so don’t write as if you think they are.
  48. Even if you know what you’re writing about inside out, there’s ALWAYS someone who knows more than you do.
  52. Always save your files.
  53. Always back-up your saved files.
  54. Keep your notes, transcripts, drafts and finished files around. You never know when you might need to refer back to it.
  55. If a phrase seems clichéd or overused, it’s probably because it is clichéd and overused.
  56. Transcribing sucks, but someone’s gotta do it.
  57. Interviewees don’t always say what you want them to say.
  58. Prepare a few general and open ended questions before an interview, and base the rest of your interview on the answers you get.
  59. Don’t put words in other people’s mouths.
  60. Keep calm and carry your media pass.
  61. Remember, your words and opinions are read by A LOT of people. So make sure you get your shit right.
  62. Fact check first; incite panic later.
  63. Even if you don’t learn anything useful from someone, at least you know which useless stuff you shouldn’t be doing.
  64. Everyone has their own way of writing.
  65. Deadlines. They exist for a reason.
  66. Interviews are a lot more interesting if you treat them like conversations instead.
  67. If you’ve only got 15 minutes with someone, don’t waste time by asking about stuff you can probably get from the Internet.
  68. Don’t ask stupid questions like HOW DO YOU LIKE MALAYSIA? Or WHY DID YOU DYE YOUR HAIR BLONDE? Every other journalist in the room will hate you if you do.
  69. I can’t write fashion stories for nuts. To me, a shoe is a shoe is a shoe.
  70. No one likes a know-it-all or a holier-than-thou.
  71. If writing is becoming too much of a chore or a routine, try doing it differently. Change your routine, write in a different style.
  72. Having a blog is a fun and easy way to practise your writing outside of work
  73. Twitter helped me learn how to say more with fewer words.
  74. If your article doesn’t get published the first time, keep trying.
  75. If in doubt, get a second opinion.
  76. Spell check is your best friend.
  77. Alcohol and writing CAN mix. Sometimes. Just make sure you tidy it up after your hangover subsides in the morning.
  78. If you suddenly think of a damn good line or story idea out of the blue, WRITE IT DOWN BEFORE YOU FORGET IT.
  79. Just because you’re not in front of the PC doesn’t mean you have to stop thinking about your story. Some of my favourite lines and angles have come while stuck in traffic jams.
  80. If you still haven’t finished your story by 1am, go to sleep instead and wake up earlier in the morning to finish the damn story.
  81. Feedback is good, no matter whether it’s good or bad. Don’t let bad feedback get you down. Learn from it.
  82. RESPECT the causes and beliefs of others. Everyone has a cause they believe strongly in. Just because your beliefs or causes are different doesn't mean they are wrong.
  83. Sometimes, there are things just WON’T or CAN’T be published, no matter what you do. Deal with it.
  84. Freebies are nice. Greedy people who hoard freebies are not.
  85. Some people are good at getting stories, but suck at writing. Some are the opposite.
  86. But everyone has his or her specialties, so don’t look down on another journalist just because he or her is from another beat or desk.
  87. Get your salutations right.
  88. If you make a mistake, apologise.
  89. Your words are read by A LOT of people, and like it or not, will influence them in one way or the other. So, make sure you influence them in a positive way.
  90. Lying is bad. Making up quotes is bad too.
  91. There is always a bigger picture we don't or are unwilling to see. As journalists, it is our job to make sure that bigger picture is seen.
  92. Politics. It takes a certain kind of journalist with a lot of guts and patience to do that beat, especially here. I’m not that kind of journalist.
  93. Don’t take advantage of a situation just because you are with the media.
  94. Journalists who write about fashion, entertainment and other non-news beats are journalists too. Just because they write about less political or serious issues doesn’t mean they are inferior to so-called ‘REAL news journalists’.
  95. No, I can’t get you free tickets for concerts.
  96. Contrary to popular belief, I actually spend more time in front of the PC writing my story than anything else.
  97. Work within your limitations. If you hit a brick wall, don’t stand there complaining about the wall - find a way to break through, or another way to go around it.
  98. The ending is just as important as the intro.
  99. Know when to end the story.
  100. I LOVE MY JOB.


Tarsem said...

Cheers man. Been a pleasure reading, particularly the concert write ups.

Dils said...

Don’t ask stupid questions like HOW DO YOU LIKE MALAYSIA? Or WHY DID YOU DYE YOUR HAIR BLONDE? Every other journalist in the room will hate you if you do.

LOL. But why I kept on reading on these questions in newspaper/magazine ?

suanie said...

"What's your favourite food in Malaysia?"

Who gives a rat's ass... :P

simon said...

in light of todays paper, how about 'make sure you insert correct picture to match caption"...?

Grace Lai said...

I think I'm gonna share this with my two Ed Assistants. Can?

Grace Lai, MillionaireAsia

ShaolinTiger said...

Great post, if everyone in every industry can learn 37 and 38 - we'd all be in a better place

Deep said...

Nice one

Jessie said...

Great post, love all your tips. These tips will come in handy for bloggers too!