Tom Durkin multimedia writer-editor-photographer
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Several years after I had won several state and national awards for reporting, I came across the “34 Traits of Award-Winning Writers/Reporters.” It spooked me -- because I do virtually everything on this list. I don’t remember where this list came from. I do remember copying it down many, many years ago. The list doesn’t show up online, but I have no reason to doubt that Roy Peter Clark wrote this. Clark is an internationally acclaimed writing teacher and vice president of the prestigious Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The 34 Traits are not so much a set of guidelines as they are a description of the work habits of effective journalists. Some of the traits, like #13 (“they rewrite”), are just plain good advice. On the other hand, compulsive pencil-sharpening (#28) is not likely to make you a better writer. I’m posting this list because I intend to write about many of these traits in the future and this seems to the best way to give readers a reference resource without having to explain the list every time. Note: This is a blind post. It is not linked to the rest of my websit

34 Traits of Award-Winning Writers/Reporters

by Roy Peter Clark 1. The world is their journalistic laboratory. They find inspiration in the people and events around them. 2. If they can get out of the office, they can find a story. 3. They prefer to find and develop their own story ideas. 4. They take notes like crazy. 5. They are voracious collectors of information. 6. They spend too much time and energy on the leads to their stories. But for many, getting the lead right is essential before they can write another word. 7. It is almost impossible to cut their stories from the bottom. 8. They rehearse their stories constantly — while driving, eating, or brushing their teeth. 9. Most are bleeders” rather than ‘speeders,” but when the story calls for them to speed, they can do so. 10. They immerse themselves in the story; they live it. 11. They understand the need for the mechanized drudgery of organizing the material — sometimes retyping notes, making transcripts of tapes, or spending hours sorting piles of material. 12. They appreciate collaboration with good editors, but they will spend time and ingenuity avoiding bad assignments and weak editing. 13. They rewrite. 14. They trust their ears and feelings rather than their eyes. 15. They hate to read their own work in the newspaper 16. Writing is an expression of their ego, making them both vulnerable and insufferable. 17. They love to tell stories and often are excellent storytellers. 18. They constantly search for the human side of the news. 19. They write primarily for themselves. 20. They have an eye for the offbeat. 21. They have confidence in their readers, believing that readers will understand the message they are trying to communicate. 22. They are not afraid to tell the morbid truth when necessary 23. They tend to be sympathetic to the people they write about. 24. They take chances in their writing, avoiding the conventional. 25. They want all readers to read every word of their stories. 26. They take responsibility for what their readers know. They translate jargon and explain complex topics. 27. His or her writing has “voice” — the illusion of someone talking directly to the reader. 28. They think a lot of quotations and how to use them. 29. They have idiosyncratic techniques to help them build momentum: compulsive pencil- sharpening, or rewarding themselves in small ways when they complete a story. 30. Most do not plagiarize, but they do borrow. 31. They are life-long readers, turning especially to novels; they also like movies. 32. Their secret wish, every time they write, is to produce the best story in the paper that day. 33. Their stories are too long — and they know it. 34. They love words.
Tom Durkin
multimedia writer-editor-photographer