Lessons learned from my college newspaper

Late nights. Early mornings. Not enough coffee in the world to keep you awake during that morning calculus class. It’s a story most college newspaper editors know well but would never change. We’re willing to put in the hours not only because of the close-knit community, one of the biggest draws, but because the skills you learn working for a college newspaper are invaluable across professional industries. Here are five reasons why.

You meet a wide range of people.

College is a bubble, but working on the paper exposes you to a wide range of people and viewpoints. During my four years on The Observer at Notre Dame, I interviewed a British literary scholar, the Chief Marketing Officer of Subway, the University president and the only Orthodox Jewish student on campus. Reaching beyond the bubble has huge value later on in the working world.

You get used to criticism.

Most professors at Notre Dame weren’t outwardly critical of my writing, focusing on what I could do better instead of what I did wrong. While I appreciated this approach in my classes, criticism is an unavoidable aspect of the professional world and life in general. My freshman year, I remember the first article I received back from my editor was completely covered in red ink, entire sections crossed out. I probably went home and cried that night, but soon learned not take things so personally (and that criticism helps you improve).

You master the art of succinct writing.

I used to think the phrase “writing is an art” meant I could use an unlimited number of words to make things sound beautiful. Now I believe that regardless of the writing form, every single word needs to have a purpose. Working on the paper taught me to boil down stories to their very core, write conversationally and include only the most powerful quotes. All of this prepared me well for a career in digital media.

You get comfortable leading conversations.

Most people love talking about themselves. Once you learn that, asking questions and leading conversations isn’t all that hard. When I started out as a reporter, I was scared to even place a call to a stranger. I read and reread my emails 10 times before requesting an interview. But with experience, I gained the confidence to assert myself during interviews, pursue contacts and ask the tougher questions.

You learn to work well under pressure.

Some of my most stressful days in college, I was under deadline for an article on the same day I had a major test. I spent free moments calling sources and writing while simultaneously trying to memorize history or statistics formulas. The Observer demanded everything of you, and you had to figure out how not to let your grades slip. It took years, but I learned to stay calm and trust that everything would get done (and that the world wouldn’t end if it didn’t).

I loved being an English major at Notre Dame. But truthfully, none of my classes stand out to me years later the way my days and nights spent in The Observer office do. While I nurtured my love for literature through my major, the newspaper that gave me the hands-on, practical education I needed to jump into the real world after graduation.

In the end, I’m thankful for the sleepless nights and overconsumption of chocolate. The Observer was the best (free) course I took at Notre Dame.

*This column was originally published in The Observer 

Jumpstart the thought process…

Graphic courtesy of facebook.com/friesenpress
Graphic courtesy of facebook.com/friesenpress

I hate the word “flow,” I really do. But sometimes when you follow the above advice, the words just flow onto the page. There’s a good chance you’ll delete most of those words later on, but you’re in a much better position than simply staring at the screen, trying to force a vision that won’t come.

A Fiction Writer’s Manifesto

Photo by Enoch Wu

Fiction is both a personal form of expression and way of commenting on events that affect the population at large. Fiction should strive for beauty because it can — so many other forms of writing do not offer that freedom. My fiction writing is not rebellious nor is it experimental but it is definitely influenced by the fast-paced writing forms of the online world.

My work makes use of two opposing writing styles and constantly displays a tension between them: the succinct phrases characteristic of journalistic writing and the metaphoric imagery characteristic of poetry. I like to approach fiction methodically — as I would in journalism, but with feeling — as I would in poetry. My fiction is based off these two types of writing, yet falls somewhere in between them.

When composing fiction, I strive for five main characteristics:

  1. The beauty of the written word: Fiction is an art form, so I want my words to sound beautiful, regardless of the subject matter. Using words with a history of alternate meanings — and being conscious of those alternate meanings — can help deepen the implications of a story. Words in fiction should sound beautiful together despite the content or subject matter. However, the definition of “beautiful” can vary depending on the story. That being said, images should not be beautiful simply for the sake of being beautiful; they should also play a larger role in the storyline.
  2. Economy of language: This characteristic fits hand in hand with the previous one. I believe simplicity of language adds to a story’s beauty — the simpler something is conveyed, the more emotionally resonant it is. Portraying beautiful images in minimal words is extremely difficult to do, and is a great accomplishment when it is achieved.
  3. Engagement in current events: I tend to write fiction that is, naturally, influenced by the events going on around me. I also intentionally create fiction that comments in some way on a relevant societal issue. I’m careful to make that issue a central motif without explicitly stating it. Building up the tension of a problem without outwardly addressing it creates a foreboding tone; not saying something outright can make its presence in fiction even stronger.
  4. Focus on realism: I almost always write in the realist style. I’m not comfortable writing in genres like fantasy or scientific fiction, but those genres also aren’t conducive to the goal I have to shed light on issues that might be otherwise brushed over. My stories tend to begin quite ominously but in familiar and typically comfortable settings — I want the reader to feel uncomfortable from the beginning without knowing why. Then, slowly, small details are dropped so that discomfort deepens. Through a focus on realism, I try to address topics that might be painful or taboo in casual conversation.
  5. Multiple narrative planes: I envision my writing as moving in several directions at once, all convening somehow in the ending. My goal is to set up these different narrative planes early on in the text, but write with enough authority that the reader is convinced each has its own purpose. Sometimes these layers are created by integrating different kinds of writing, including poetry, journalism and essays, into the fiction itself. The various layers also help create endings that are somewhat ambiguous but still convey a specific feeling.

My writing is generally traditional. I love writing in the vignette style in particular because it allows me to incorporate poetic phrases naturally into fiction. Vignettes give me the opportunity both to create the beauty that I strive for and to comment on a single issue from a number of different perspectives.

As a young writer, social media and online writing inevitably influence my work, since those are things I engage with on a daily basis. Despite most forms of writing being in a state of such rapid change, however, I believe traditional, printed fiction continues to be crucial today. The mind processes ideas differently when work is read on the printed page versus when it is read on a screen, so the printed page is necessary even as the world of digitally published fiction expands. A goal for my future work is to reconcile these two sides of fiction, always keeping in mind how a story will be interpreted differently depending on whether it’s displayed on a digital or traditional background.

Top 5 places to write outdoors

Swimming. Sundresses. Street fairs. There are so many things to love about summer, but writing outside may be my favorite. I have a few months to go before I begin my new job, and I’ve been trying to get some sun and catch up with reading and writing in the meantime. Here are some of my all time favorite spots to ponder ideas, scribble down thoughts or seriously write.

1. On a city bench (eavesdropping)

I learned this trick at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio back when I was a junior in high school. There’s no better source of inspiration for a story than picking up and trying to piece together scraps of conversation from daily life. Listening to entire conversations is okay, too. I mean when you’re out in the public it’s fair game, right?

2. The back patio of my house

It’s away from the commotion, but close to an endless supply of snacks and San Pellegrino!

3. The second floor balcony of the Concord Suites in Avalon, NJ

Each year since I was about 11 my family has gone down to the Jersey Shore and stayed at the same hotel, the Concord Suites. The second story of the building has a wide balcony with tables that look out over the street. I love the clear, breezy nights when you can see the stars, and the combination of hushed conversation of and the hum of the ocean makes for the perfect background sound. Every year I try to write at least one poem from up there.

4. The bench and table at St. Joseph’s Lake in Notre Dame, IN

I never actually wrote here, but my roommate Megan and I would often go for runs around the lakes at school, and each time we passed this spot I’d vow to come back with my notebook. Basically, there’s a charming little writing desk off in a tree-shrouded area beside a beautiful lake, and I never actually see anyone using it.  I’ll definitely have to find some time away from bookstore-shopping and tailgating to come back here during a football weekend.

5. Sitting outside a café 

Okay I may be cheating a little bit with this one, because obviously a café is an ideal spot for writing. But writing OUTSIDE a café  is most ideal!  I love the outdoor tables certain coffee shops have, where you can sit with your laptop, enjoy your latte and the warm weather and still observe people on the street.

It’s a…blog!

Dear friends,

As many of you know, I’ve been wanting to start a blog for some time. I love writing, photography, and aimless searching online, so a blog always seemed to be the perfect fusion of my interests.

The summer after my first year in college I interned at a New York based company called Magnet Media, writing blog posts for the photography and design channels of their website, Zoom In Online (Now The Photoletariat). Each day, I’d take my free trade coffee up to the tenth floor of the Chelsea office building, feeling as hipster as a freshman Notre Dame student from a preppy suburban town could feel. I loved my job and was fascinated by the blog world, by how entire communities existed online and artists exchanged ideas through comments and links and shoutouts.

But then summer ended and school started and I forgot about my quirky little pastime. Two years later, I’m finally giving it another try. This blog will contain my own creative writing and photography and finds from the design world.

Hope you enjoy!