Using journalism techniques in fiction

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One of the best techniques I learned in journalism school and later as a practicing journalist was the ability to see a piece of writing as ‘the’ writing instead of ‘my’ writing.

With fiction writers, I try to convey this technique for successful revision. If it’s ‘the’ writing, you distance yourself, your likes and dislikes, from the piece of writing and see the writing as an entity separate from you.

If it’s ‘my’ writing, you’re so attached to it that you’re less likely to kill your darlings, to cut out some favorite scene that doesn’t fit the plot. You’re less able to go into a writer’s group and really hear the feedback.

For example, because I do try to see Earth as ‘the’ novel instead of ‘my’ novel, when someone I didn’t particularly like criticized it, I was able to hear her feedback (albeit begrudgingly). I was able to delve into the criticism, parse out what WOULD help the book, incorporate those changes, and bring the novel to a higher level.

This is more difficult than it sounds, especially with memoir and fiction, where we are exploring our voice more than, say, in a journalism article. But it’s a good discipline to practice. Back up. Think of a chapter as separate from you. Look as clearly as you can at its weaknesses. Revise until it shines as a stellar piece of writing.

Being able to understand a piece of writing as ‘the’ writing can also help you give feedback to other writers, for example, in writer’s groups. If I see another writer’s chapter as ‘the’ writing, I can focus on the work, and what makes it better, instead of on the person who wrote it.

This is a particularly good practice if you don’t particularly like one of the writers in a group. Don’t focus on them, or you’ll throw in hurtful personal criticisms. Focus on the work. Discipline the mind to just see the chapter. How could the writing be improved?

The ability to do this is a professional skill, and practicing it will make you more of a professional writer. People can sense such professionalism and it helps further your own writing career.

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