What makes a good story? Writers are often judged by what appears below their byline, but there is so much more to a good story than that. The public rarely gets to see the exciting grunt work behind the scenes. An initial story idea, like any entrepreneurial venture, goes through several pivots and iterations, before the golden story materializes.
Pitching to my editors is my favorite part of the job, but it’s also the hardest. Balancing what the public wants to know with your moral compass of what you think they should know is tricky.
There are a million backstories behind the final product. The vetting process – determining what is worth writing about, what people will like, what they should know – involves asking the right questions. What are readers curious about? What is their perception on a topic? What do they know that I don’t?
I’m creating a newsletter to involve my friends and family in story development. Each week, I’ll share stories I’ve posted, stories in the pipeline, and stories that need some fleshing out. I want to hear your thoughts on the stories in queue. Think of it as a sounding board, and your chance to add input to a story before it is published.
My strategy thus far has been to post a question on Facebook and Twitter. “Hey, what internship advice do you have for new interns?” “Do you know anything about Atlanta? Let me know!” It can get annoying. So, one other purpose of this newsletter is to reduce my clutter and create a targeted community of people who do actually want to participate in the development of stories without bombarding everyone else’s social feeds.
If you’re interested in participating, here’s the link to sign-up and feel free to forward to anyone else who is interested:
ps. the inspiration for a newsletter came from Ann Friedman, who wrote this helpful post on How Writers Can Use Email To Share Their Work. Her weekly newsletter is a mix of her original work, suggested reads, pie charts, and funny gifs.
I began the month of November with the vow to write every day. Since then, WordPress has informed me that I’ve published 28 times, garnering just under 1000 views collectively. The goal was to write and I guess in some measurable way, I did.
Then I realize that the date is December 3 and my stomach sinks like it did in high school, when my grade would come just short of an A. My goal was to write every day for the month of November. It’s now December and I’m still only writing for November 30, Day 30: My Final Post. Also, I am somehow missing two days – Day 10 and Day 23 – so I didn’t actually write every day of the month.
In this not-so-grand finale, missteps and incompletion are revealed. My story is one of backtracking, writing about events that happened days before, yet still documenting in present-tense as if it was all unfolding in real-time. I’m a fraud and time warp if there ever was one. Writing everyday is pretty straightforward. Pitter patter into the blog-o-sphere, publish, boom. Like clockwork, day in day out…yet I couldn’t do it.
Fortunately, I don’t really care. I wish I cared more. If I did, I’d probably accomplish more of my goals and be a better person. I’d finally get more sleep and be less crabby . I’d stop eating cupcakes and be skinnier. I’d meet deadlines and be responsible. Which would be great and then I’d have nothing to write about.
My friend, a fellow writer, wrote me this the other day:
“Today, and lately, I’ve felt like I want to just retire. Like how at the end of Casablanca, Laszlo says “welcome back to the fight, this time I know our side will win.” I kinda wanna say fuck him and fuck the good fight and take Ilsa away and live happily ever after. I feel like I’ve lived my life a certain way. Trying to write about the Last Generation. The Novel. Trying to encourage all of us to be our best and trying to be a role model. But I’m tired now and lonesome and have nothing to show for it but anxiety and doubt. Lately part of me, a vocal part, just wants to say fuck it, grab the nearest Princess Jasmine and get out of Dodge while the getting is good (as in, Marry the Girl with the stupid proposal on the ice in front of Rockefeller center, the Big Law job, the Quiet Normal life.) Let the Last Generation fight on without me – it’s filled with 5th columnists away. Not only do I want to retire, I feel like I’ve earned it.“
I tire too. I tire of translating thoughts out of an overwrought mind, craving connection with an audience (imaginary and real), dreaming of making it, only to then have people misinterpret me and my words. Forget it. It’s December, Christmas music is playing, and I just want to mindlessly sip hot chocolate. Turn my computer off forever. Pretend I’m normal and forget being the role model, because being a role model at 20something is oxymoronic anyway.
At the ragged age of 23, I’m preemptively announcing my retirement. To those who have followed me on this November journey, thanks for your readership. Who knows what happens from here. Maybe I’ll find a boyfriend, maybe I’ll completely up and leave the digital sphere, or move out of New York. I’m tempted to say I will never jot thoughts into the universe again.
But knowing me, I’ll wake up tomorrow, retreat to my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood, order an Almond Biscuit with black coffee, and…do it all over again. Because truthfully folks, the day I can no longer pour out the addled contents of my mind will be a sad one. And that day, I will retire.
The number twelve symbolizes completion, forming a whole, perfect and harmonious unit. It’s been 12 days since I started writing, so I thought this would be a numerically opportune time to reflect on the journey thus far.
Standard reflective photo.
It’s been exhausting. This lexophilic marathon could not be more inconvenient. Shortly after vowing to write daily, I took on 2 more freelance projects, then 2 mini-trips. There have been several nights I haven’t been home until 10 or 11 pm, so it’s close to midnight by the time I begin writing. Often, my posts aren’t even published on the day I’m writing about. This publishing schedule is so reflective of the general state of my life: erratic and frantically late to everything. (I didn’t write about the day I was close to a half-hour late for my first day at a part-time job; I was probably too tired to spell out the details of the occasion. Funny enough, it ended up being my first and last day working there. I’ll save that story for another day.)
12 posts. However tired I’ve been, there’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment with each ‘Publish’. Thoughts elucidated, I am able to experience the intangible value of my day, leaving me depleted yet satisfied. It’s why I will continue to put myself through this glorious ordeal because deprived as I am, I am simultaneously filled. The audience, however small, pushes me to produce. Relegated to privacy, I would certainly never do it. All ‘ye consumers have the power. I write because I know someone will read and for whatever effect that has, I push through the yawns. To my loyal screen readers, thank you.
Also, I just realized that I missed a day of writing and so I’ve actually only written 11 times. For the love of incompletion. Tomorrow it shall be rectified.
Day 1: Strategy
I’ve been drafting these things called ‘Content Strategy Docs’. These are digital design, development, and copy suggestions for companies to increase engagement with their customer base. In short, a way for companies who care about their bottom line to appear that they care about other things, like you. The most successful businesses are realizing that it’s no longer about simply offering a product; meeting customers online and adding additional value through useful, compelling information is becoming make-or-break strategy.
In these docs, I talk a lot about building a brand. Determining three adjectives that describe the essence of who you are, then sticking with those descriptors in everything you produce – whether it be a simple tweet or a full-fledged marketing campaign. Through all this strategizing, I realized that my own writings on my website failed to abide with that consistent ‘voice’. Two posts ago I wrote about journalism, the latest was about food, and now this is about branding strategy. Who am I?
Before this turns existential crisis-y, let’s remember that it’s November. And? November is National Novel Writing Month. While that may not have been the first thing you thought of, it was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when waking up this morning. If that says anything at all (other than that I don’t have a boyfriend) it’s that I really like to write. Yet I’ve never really sat and figured out what I want to write about. It usually just happens. So today, in uncharacteristic fashion, I tried to draft a “plan” for my writings, structure it around some theme, find 3 adjectives that describe my essence. After painstaking thought, which involved going to the fridge and wine bottle, I gave up.
Unlike the companies I’ve worked with, I can’t boil my “content” to one, two, or even three subjects. I simply write. For National Novel Writing Month, I’ve decided not to write a novel, but a single post a day. I have no strategy, no idea what tomorrow’s topic will be. All I’m saying is that I will write – be it 3 am delirium or crisp clear-eyed morning cheer- every day for a month.
That’s about as good as strategy gets. The National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) goal is “to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.” We’ll see if 30 random posts make a novel.
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This is my mood now. When things go wrong, you sing a song.