NEWS YOU CAN USE. That’s what was pointed out to me this week in one of my classes – the idea that few memoir writers understand how to utilize breaking news to their advantage. So, I’ve set about to fix that.
As a memoir writer, you sometimes need to be provoked to write. I know, I teach a class in memoir, and the single biggest issue to all of my students is when to write what. They’ve got the stories. We all do. I’ve got millions of them. But when to tell them seems to be among the greatest of obstacles. So here’s some help.
It’s simple: You can either write to a specific date on the calendar, to the general season, or immediately, after reading something in the newspaper, or online, hearing it on the radio, or seeing it on television.
For those high emotional holidays, go see my interactive calendar here on the homepage. It’s there for your use, and will link you not only to a day, months in advance, for you to shoot for, but to a post about what to write on such a date. In other words, I offer you not only the provocation, but some education, as well.
The reason we write this way is because the first question all readers ask, either consciously or subconsciously, is “Why am I reading this now?” There needs to be a subtle or not-so-subtle answer to that in the piece, or the reader will turn away. This is called the news peg. We need either to read a piece about Easter, say, on Easter, or one in the run-up to Easter, though we can read pieces about spring anytime during its season.
But what about those pieces you read in the newspaper that immediately provoke a response? For those, you’ve got to bang out your piece immediately, or go into your archive of half-finished pieces and rewrite your lede (your opener) and make that thing sing in tune with the event. And then you’ve got to push the send button on it, writers, and send it off for possible publication or airing. Oh yeah.
So I’ve started a category on my blog called News You Can Use, in which I’ll simply post a few things each week that you might have missed. Like this one, from this week’s news, that might get you writing about your own first kiss, or anything else this might provoke. Or this one, from yesterday’s newspaper, that opines about marriage and its price. Or this post of mine, also from this week, where I teach you how to use a scientific study to write a piece. Or even this, a product ad my sister sent me that should send any pet owner into paroxysms of writing. That’s what writers do. They react. And you’re a writer now.