On Chapter 10 of Writing Feature Stories

The parts of Chapter 10 that I find most usefull in my writing are the sections on simplicity and intrinsic interest. Clutter is one of my biggest problems in the feature writing format.  I try to put too much detail on things that, in the end, are unimportant and bog the reader down.  Editing these parts out or “cutting the fat” will take a lot more practice for me.

Intrinsic interest.  I’m so glad that features are not always written on deadline.  I say this because finding intrinsically interesting material is hard for me at my low level of practice and experience.  I suppose I see interesting things every day but typically have no idea how to approach writing about them in a creative way.  I hope this class will, and I think it has already, change that. 


On Wordcraft

In Chapter 11 of Writing Feature Stories the author delves into the topic of wordiness and its different levels of need for different subjects and publications.  Like the difference between stories in the Oxford American or say Signature Magazine here in the Hattiesburg area.   Some days I feel more “artsy” than others and want to allow my language to flow in prose.  Some days I just don’t feel. it.  Freelancing is appealing to me because of the chance to head in either direction.

This all makes me think of a writing competition I read about online.  Several talented young writers were grouped and heard the same interviews and had all the same resources.  Then they were told to write a feature story on the material. In one case, the subject was of a man in a courtroom being condemned for murder.  I enjoyed reading the differing interpretations of the same facts and feelings.  The tones of the stories varied more than I expected.  Some seemed more judgmental, cut and dry, while others painted a picture of the emotions of the defendant. Showing his humanity.  Some of the stories could have, depending on the mood they were in, been written by the same person I thought.  I’ll try to find the website that had the stories and list the link.  I think other feature writers will find the differing interpretations interesting.

On Finding the Right Structure For the Story in Writing Feature Stories

On the subject of sifting and sorting through the raw material…  I have always, until now, written papers without the need for cutting out parts that were not important enough to use.  The book calls it “dead wood.”  This type of shoot first and edit later style of writing is growing on me, but I have too much doubt sometimes to cut stuff that I like.  

I hope to grow into having a better eye for what telling details will make a better component to a feature with practice. 

The memorable ending is, right now, my least comfortable part of a feature story.  The wrap-up takes me forever to come up with. 


Name Your Subgenre – On Travel Writing: Inner and Outer Thoughts by Adam Hochschild

In his writing Hochshild explains how travel writing should take the reader “from ignorance to knowledge.”  I like this perspective of how to approach travel pieces.  I’ve only written one and I’m afraid it was more of a tourist pamphlet than a piece of journalism.  The nitty-gritty is what my paper lacked and that is what I now know I have to portray in order to give readers “knowledge” of a location.  Next time I take a trip anywhere I plan to take a notebook and record the stuff that I left out last time. 


On Participatory Reporting and Being There

Ted Conover’s story about working as a correctional officer reminds me of working in restaurant kitchens.  I’ve managed two of them. While doing so I realized that many, if not most, of my employees were ex-cons.  I could not help but notice the apparent transfer of culture from behind bars to behind the grill, fryer or dish pit. Restaurants, like prisons, are often hotbeds of drug use, mental illness, and social injustice.   I hope to use my presence in restaurants to report on what I find to the masses.

In the section Being There by Anne Hull, she gives some good examples of how to get closer to your subjects.  It brought me back to the story we read in class about the shanty town by the polluted lake.  When she says “Don’t drink a cold drink in front of someone who is not allowed to have one,” I’m reminded of how hard this type of journalism can be.  Not just on your physical state, but on your emotions when trying to write objectively in spite of your feelings of empathy or disgust.

I think the section  Not Always Being There by Louise Kiernan is valuable lesson not just for writers, but for everyone.  I want some of my friends and aquaintenancess to read this for general purposes.

Getting Close but Staying Professional

In chapter 7 of “Writing Feature Stories,” I found it very interesting that the author tells us how we can use personality to get close to the interviewee, and yet remain professional while writing the story.  The chapter addresses the different purposes of both the journalist and the source.  I’ll try to use this way of thinking when interviewing people.  These ideas are more important when dealing with controversial topics, but are important too in softer features.  An example of this could be in my interview with Ron Savell.  He will undoubtedly try to put his bar Brewsky’s in the best of light for the sake of commercialism, yet it is my duty to the readers to be objective.

I like how the reporter offered to take the busy interviewee to the airport in order to get an interview.  This show of creativeness got them an exclusive one on one.  I hope to show this kind of savvy when approaching sources in the future.

Freelancing part-time seems like a great hobby and financial opportunity

Drew Womack

In “Making it as a Freelancer”, Jim Collins does a great job of telling the reader  how to get into freelancing in one’s spare time.  Until now, I have not put much thought into reporting on the interesting people, places and events of my life’s experience and getting paid for it.  Mr. Collins makes me want to carry a notebook with me every day to record ideas for stories.  Also I loved his possible definition of a freelance writer as being a “stay-at-home dad having a midlife crisis”!  That made me laugh aloud.  That all being said, I will have to improve my writing and reading, as I have not done enough of either over the past five years, or maybe ever.

The two blog posts gave great advise for writing query letters.  I saved them both to my laptop for reference when writing my own.  The posts made me painfully aware of my lack of writing experience.  I’ll have to change that.

Story ideas from talking with people and personal experiences

Drew Womack

Talking with people is one of my favorite things to do.  I should read more and I intend to, but conversation may likely be my favorite source of story ideas.    My job as a bartender gives me access to a number of interesting people to talk with on a daily basis.  I enjoy the conversations and have gained many story ideas through the years.  My social life is also a great source of story ideas.  I have always been a fan of live music.  I know a lot of artists and could interview them, but I think some of the best stories may come from the conversations with the people behind the scenes.  Roadies, bouncers, and bar tenders usually see the interesting, yet subtle happenings a lot more often than the talent, and many are down right intriguing  on their own.  This being my favorite area of personal experience, and the access I’m granted with people in the local music scene will likely show in my feature writing.