Friday, April 27, 2007

This Is What You Need To Be An Outstanding Writer

In order to attain success as a writer of special feature articles, you must possess at least four qualifications:

(1) ability to find subjects that will interest the average man and woman, and to see the picturesque, romantic, and significant phases of these subjects;

(2) a sympathetic understanding of the lives and interests of the persons about whom and for whom he writes;

(3) thoroughness and accuracy in gathering material;

(4) skill to portray and to explain clearly, accurately, and attractively.

The much vaunted sense of news values commonly called a "nose for news," whether innate or acquired, is a prime requisite. Like the newspaper reporter, the writer of special articles must be able to recognize what at a given moment will interest the average reader. Like the reporter, also, you must know how much it will interest him. An alert, responsive attitude of mind toward everything that is going on in the world, and especially in that part of the world immediately around you, will reveal a host of subjects. By reading newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as by intercourse with persons of various classes, a writer keeps in contact with what people are thinking and talking about, in the world at large and in his own community. In this way you find subjects and also learn how to connect you subjects with events and movements of interest the country over.

Not only should you be quick to recognize a good subject; you must be able to see the attractive and significant aspects of it. You must understand which of its phases touch most closely the life and the interests of the average person for whom he is writing. He must look at things from "the other fellow's" point of view. A sympathetic insight into the lives of your readers is necessary for every writer who hopes to quicken his subject with vital interest.

The alert mental attitude that constantly focuses the writer's attention on the men and women around him has been called "human curiosity," which Arnold Bennett says "counts among the highest social virtues (as indifference counts among the basest defects), because it leads to the disclosure of the causes of character and temperament and thereby to a better understanding of the springs of human conduct". The importance of curiosity and of a keen sense of wonder has been emphasized as follows by Mr. John M. Siddall, editor of the American Magazine, who directed his advice to college students interested in the opportunities afforded by writing as a profession:

A journalist or writer must have consuming curiosity about other human beings - the most intense interest in their doings and motives and thoughts. It comes pretty near being the truth to say that a great journalist is a super-gossip - not about trivial things but about important things. Unless you have a ceaseless desire to learn what is going on in the heads of others, you won't be much of a journalist - for how can you write about others unless you know about others?

In journalism, men are needed who have a natural sense of wonder. . . . You must wonder at man's achievements, at man's stupidity, at his honesty, crookedness, courage, cowardice - at everything that is remarkable about him wherever and whenever it appears. If you haven't this sense of wonder, you will never write a novel or become a great reporter, because you simply won't see anything to write about. Men will be doing amazing things under your very eyes - and you won't even know it.

Ability to investigate a subject thoroughly, and to gather material accurately, is absolutely necessary for any writer who aims to do acceptable work. Careless, inaccurate writers are the bane of the magazine editor's life. Whenever mistakes appear in an article, readers are sure to write to the editor calling his attention to them. Moreover, the discovery of incorrect statements impairs the confidence of readers in the magazine. If there is reason to doubt the correctness of any data in an article, the editor takes pains to check over the facts carefully before publication. He is not inclined to accept work a second time from a writer who has once proved unreliable.

To interpret correctly the essential significance of data is as important as to record them accurately. Readers want to know the meaning of facts and figures, and it is the writer's mission to bring out this meaning. A sympathetic understanding of the persons who figure in your article is essential, not only to portray them accurately, but to give his story the necessary "human interest". To observe accurately, to feel keenly, and to interpret sympathetically and correctly whatever you undertake to write about, should be your constant aim as a writer.

Ability to write well enough to make the average person see as clearly, feel as keenly, and understand as well as he does himself the persons and things that he is portraying and explaining, is obviously the sine qua non of success. Ease, fluency, and originality of diction, either natural or acquired, the writer must possess if his work is to have distinction.

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