Why being a journalist has made me a more disciplined creative writer

When I first began writing as a journalist, I was worried. I had spent years believing I would grow up to become a fiction novelist or creative writer of some importance, and here I was delving into media law and CP style and wondering if my passion for writing fiction would wane in light of my new workload at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism.

I shouldn’t have been so anxious. What training as a journalist gave me was discipline, a trait I took for granted when I wrote almost daily in high school. I loved writing as novelist with zero stakes pressuring me to do so, but when I had to write for a deadline, that challenge instilled in me the will to make that date, no late hand-in’s allowed.

When I later worked full-time as a journalist, both as a freelancer and a writer for Digital Journal, I began to see more clearly the value of deadlines as a creative writer. I knew I didn’t have any “hard” date that I needed to finish a poem by, say, but I began to place that on myself so I wouldn’t get lazy or wait for the Muse (whoever that is) to grace me with her divine inspiration.

It almost feels like a game, now that I think about it: make an arbitrary date to finish a haiku or short story, put my ass in a chair because that’s where it belongs when you’re a writer, and work on the piece like I’m writing an article that requires that same kind of steadfast focus. It likely won’t be a sparkling first draft, but, as Anne Lamott says, “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”

You might think that deadlines add unnecessary stress to a relaxing hobby such as writing. But it’s still a craft fuelled by a regiment dependent on not just God-given talent but also onthe hunger to get better. And you don’t get to be a strong writer by writing whenever an idea strikes, but also when you don’t want to write.

I’ll likely write another post or two on what else journalism has taught me about creative writing beyond the discipline of it all, but for now, I want to share with you some advice: If you’re a poet or novelist or playwright and you’re looking for a stable (somewhat, especially now) career that also harnesses your skills, try journalism. As a creative writer, you’re a storyteller, no matter what your project is, and the same holds true when you work as a news reporter.

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Freelance journalist. Editor. Writing Coach. Bylines: The Washington Post, BBC News, The Globe & Mail, Business Insider, Popular Mechanics, New Scientist.

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