why i went into writing.

9 Oct

A few days ago I made the copy editor cry. She swiveled around in her chair, and I saw that her eyes were puffy and red and had tears falling from them. She said to me, “How did you do it?” I’ve never seen her cry after reading a story. She’s a very literal person.

 I wrote a story about a 13-year-old girl who died not long ago from cancer. A few days before I wrote the story I interviewed her mother. There’s a point, I’ve found, during most in person interviews—this rarely happens in phone interviews—when something clicks inside me, and I get it. I understand what I want to communicate through the story, or at least try to. Usually it’s toward the end. It’s more of a connection really, with the person.

But whatever it was that I felt, I want the reader to feel, too. If I felt sad, I want the reader to feel sad also. I want to make the reader see. Whatever happened with the copy editor, I think I must have done something right because I made her feel what I felt; I communicated what I felt during the interview; I made her see what I saw.

Usually I can pick out during the interview what material would be good where. When her mother mentioned sunflowers were her favorite flower and that she wore one in her hair during her funeral, I knew I had my lead. When she later said that her daughter pictured Jesus on one side of her and Mary on the other whenever she was taken away into surgery, I knew I had my ending. You get a sense for things, is what I guess I’m saying.

I guess I went into writing because I was never much good at talking. To be a reporter, you don’t really have to be a good talker, even though people think of the stereotype of the chatty, pushy, obnoxious newspaper hack. OK, maybe that’s not what most think of, but some do. Really you just have to be good at listening, and so it suits me well. I ask a few questions, sit and smile and scribble, scribble and smile, and people just keep talking. Most people just want to be heard, and they’re happy to have anyone who is interested in them and willing to listen. That I am.

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