By Amy Seed and Leah Girard
The day we landed in Washington, DC was the day we forgot how to write.
Everything we thought we knew about writing we quickly learned was false. OK, not everything, but it sure felt that way. From the beginning, WJC staff Terry and Greg told us stories of ledes gone wrong. Terribly wrong. A couple weeks ago, they introduced us to "The Beast."
This is the most common and boring lede that could possibly be written. It sounds something like this: "This group met on this day and did this."
Lame. We realized we've been writing ledes like that for most of our young journalistic careers. Can you say, "Uh oh?"
Of course they had to remind us of this heinous crime against writing a few days before our first story folders were due. We had two weeks to write our first of five articles for class. Unsure of ourselves, we were especially paranoid of committing "The Beast."
Sitting in the Green House determined to finish our articles early, we became frantic. We spent a couple of hours talking about how to write an informative lede without committing "The Beast." There were so many suggestions and restrictions that we weren't sure how to piece them together.
Even though we were writing these for our internships, we were more afraid of Terry's criticism (The WJC director) than our editors'. The thought of his editing pen grazing our page sent us into fits of panic.
I, Amy, spent hours trying to write a lede for my snowball fight story. I have always been taught to bluntly answer the who, what, where, when, why and how in the first sentence. Terry still wanted that information, but he also wanted color. I'm terrible at writing with color.
I read it aloud to classmates countless times until I finally reached a point where I felt I had accomplished something. That is, I thought it was good until I e-mailed it to Terry the next morning. I quickly found out it wasn't newsy enough for the publication date since it was several days after the event.
E-mails that followed were filled with the now ominous saying, "Hang in there." I eventually changed my lede to something Greg and Terry said was better and sent the copy to my editor.
When he sent me the edits, I discovered that one of the last sentences in my article had been moved up as the lede. So much for knowing the most important information. On the bright side, my editor said I had done some good reporting.
I finally recovered from this only to be faced with tough criticism of the rough draft of another WJC assignment, my "Four Models" essay. Just minutes before receiving this news, I wrote what I considered the worst article of my life. We had a lede-writing exercise due, and I had struggled tremendously to write something coherent about the topic.
Feeling one cm tall after a class that seemed hours long, I couldn't help but wonder what that week at my internship was going to be like. Fortunately, I wrote another article that pleased my editor, who did not change my lede this time.
I, Leah, spent my time agonizing over my own snow-based article. Because I lacked complete confidence in the articles I had produced for my internship over the past weeks, I was attempting to crank out a completely separate article. This was, of course, in addition to the Feature article I had to write for my school paper on the same topic. Needless to say, throes of woe were overwhelming me.
After hours of writing and editing--the backspace key became my best friend-- I came up with an article. I realized the next morning when I re-read it, that it was boring and ineffective; then promptly ditched it. This effectively eliminated almost six hours of work from the night before.
Failure was bitter, and I ended up just turning in a lack-luster article I had written for my internship the week before out of sheer desperation. My grade on that story folder reflected that and the stress seemed to return.
Writing always came easily to me in the past. Not any more. I now second guess every word placed on the page, frantically searching my brain for rules Terry has given us for effective journalistic communication.
Sometimes I long for the days back at Asbury where it seemed I could please my journalism professor with ease. Although Amy seems sometimes to despise Greg’s mantra of just "hang in there,” it’s one I’m going to try to adopt.
This semester is meant to stretch us, push us beyond the limits we held upon arrival. What I’ve learned is that even though "The Beast" is terrifying, you have to know it exists in order to avoid it. With time it’ll become easier. Right?
As time goes on, we are feeling more at ease with our writing. The past few weeks have almost been like learning how to write from scratch all over again. Now that we are more comfortable at our internships and know what our professors are looking for, our confidence is growing. This does not mean we won't have moments of panic in the future, but we are confident we will avoid "The Beast."