Serious one week, offbeat the next
Sheryl Harris, the consumer columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, provided some tups on column writing at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers fall conference in Anaheim, Calif.
Among her suggestions:
- Mix it up. Serious one week? Try something offbeat the next. If you can use elements of narrative, do it. If you can build a column like a mystery, try it. Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing,” a manual for fiction writers, has great tips on techniques that can be adapted for nonfiction.
- Trust your gut. If you have a feeling that someone’s story is unbelievable and they can’t produce documentation, don’t be afraid to pass. If you’re writing multiple columns a week, you don’t have time to get mired in someone’s complicated fantasy.
- …But try the impossible. Because sometimes it works. Some of my best columns have come from reader questions that I thought might be unanswerable.
- Keep an emergency idea file. Having a list of quick topics can save you if something falls through. If I write a column on “free consumer advice from the government,” you know I had a bad week.