Just. One. More. Cup. This I promise myself every morning. But my inner monologue is sneaky. She was probably the catalyst for that whole fall-of-Adam-and-Eve incident.
“But you have that paper and that story due and those photos to take today,” she coos. “You need this.”
It wasn’t until I was sprawled on my couch one night with my heart beating frantically out of my chest from over consumption of caffeine, that I really considered the credibility of that voice whispering in my ear.
That night, while staring wide-eyed with my hand over my frenzied heart, I slowly recounted the number of caffeine-enhanced beverages I consumed earlier that day.
It went a little like this: “Let’s see. I had those three cups of coffee this morning. And then that soda at lunchtime. Oh, yeah, and that grande mocha from Starbucks. Not to mention the Red Bull I picked up for when I wrote my paper. GOOD GOD WOMAN.”
At this point, I made a (loose) vow that I would limit my caffeine intake. Easier said than done folks.
Journalists have different specialties, writing styles and opinions, but they are all bound in the ever-present need for caffeine. I am surrounded by my fellow coffee-addicted colleagues, and we walk in little huddles to the coffee shop every day.
Coffee is my answer for everything. I’m stressed? Coffee. I have a story due? Coffee. I’m going out tonight? Coffee. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a 12-step program for over-caffeinators.
Ack. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Most journalists follow one rule of thumb: They write for a sixth to eighth grade reading level. One of the first and most basic skills a journalist learns is to cut out difficult words and complex sentence structure. We even shun the use of potentially complicated punctuation. Our colleagues and editors push us to “make it tight.” As a former English major, I marveled at this rule.
How was I supposed to make my writing interesting? Who wants to read a bunch of short sentences pounded out like a machine gun? I also became deeply concerned with the concept of propagating “dumbed down” writing. I felt that journalists should have more faith in their readers.
As I swam deeper and deeper into the world of journalism, however, I gradually realized the beauty of tight writing. Concise writing has a number of benefits. By cutting out unnecessary fluff, I can post a story with immediacy. The straightforward nature of tight writing also eliminates potential confusion. I just write the facts as they are.
This writing style also keeps me from unconsciously inserting too much of myself into a story. I can write what happened, and not use a plethora of overly descriptive adjectives that emphasize the story the way I see it.
Furthermore, there is still room for creativity in tight writing. In feature writing, I can describe the colors, sights and smells of my surroundings. I can write a suspenseful lede and still be true to the facts.
Ultimately, my job is to inform readers, and concise writing allows me to do this with immediacy and accuracy. As William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”