Here’s an easy-to-use formula for writing at CUNY: Read + Report + Write + Review + Repeat = Better Writing. Let’s put the microscope on each element to give you a sense of how it works:
- READ – In the hurry-up lives most CUNY students live, there’s a tendency to forget this basic. There’s simply no better preparation for writing than reading. Read good writing wherever you find it – daily papers, blogs, essays, magazine articles, fiction and non-fiction books, anthologies of the best journalistic writing. Make a mental checklist about what works, and why. Writing Coach Roy Peter Clark calls it “x-ray reading” as he dissects the elements of writing in his excellent book, “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.”
- REPORT – This is at the center of everything you do at CUNY. When you get an assignment, find out as much as you can before you get there. At the assignment, use all of your senses to collect storytelling details that puts the reader in the scene. Take good notes, highlight the best quotes and details that tell the story. As you return to the newsroom, write down a brief sentence, phrase or headline that best summarizes what you think the reader should take away from the story.
- WRITE – Organize your notes and thoughts. Focus on what you want the reader to remember. Try for a strong lead (or lede, in journalese) but don’t get bogged down. If you can’t come up with a lede, write the rest of the story and come back to it. Often, the lede will take shape as you write the story. Use strong, active verbs and descriptive, storytelling detail. Use the strongest quotes to propel the story. Write a nut graf high in the story to give readers a reason to stay with your story. Give yourself time to read the finished story to yourself, or even aloud, to hear the speed bumps in your writing or understanding. Check your spelling, grammar and structure. Hit the send button.
- REVIEW – You’ll get lots of chances for this, particularly in your first semester. You’ll get in-class reviews of your work, written comments from your professors and chances to rewrite. You also can review and rework articles with the writing coaches, and others. Your classmates can be a valuable asset, too. Bounce your ledes and stories off of them. Share ideas. Critique constructively. It’s all part of the experience.
- REPEAT – Don’t worry. You’ll go through this drill time and again in your first semester. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Enjoy!