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Being Catholic Isn\’t an Excuse for Crap Writing: An Interview

May 3, AD2013 1 Comment

\"Edmund

If you\’ve read my thoughts on evangelization and cheese, you might not be surprised when I say that evangelistic efforts can\’t lack quality. Regardless of how true the Catholic faith is, if you can\’t communicate it effectively the truth will fall on deaf ears.

I\’m not the greatest writer and wanted some help in this area so I asked good friend Arleen Spencely to share some of her knowledge and experience as a writer, blogger, and journalist. Listen up!\"\"

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Five Blogging Tips from a Journalist – Arleen Spenceley

Lots of what I know about blogging is what I learned in a newsroom – what I learned at the first desk on the left side of a Tampa Bay Times bureau, where on July 23, 2007, I marveled at the privilege of my new reality: “I can’t believe I work here.”

That day – my first as a Times staff writer – I was a college kid, now with Pulitzer Prize-winning colleagues, a press badge and a dream come true. That semester, the summer before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in journalism, I discovered what I never expected I would:

You learn a lot more in newsrooms than in classrooms.

I wrote in Times newsrooms until December 2012, when, after five years on staff, I resigned to finish my master’s degree. I look back with gratitude, for great memories and a skill set I still use. What I learned in newsrooms, I’ve discovered, transfers seamlessly to blogs. Here are the four lessons I use most:

If you’re gonna write, you’ve got to read. And you’ve got to read good writing. At the paper, I’d spend 20 minutes browsing Times archives for stories by better writers than I before beginning to write my own. I’d read stories by Pulitzer winners and nominees, riveted by the result of their talent and experience. Then, I’d emulate it (or try). This also works when you blog (but don’t just read blogs! Read books, good newspapers, and/or magazines.)

Talk to strangers. We are surrounded by the people who surround us for a reason. We are also surrounded by good stories. One morning, I parked outside a Tampa bureau of the Times and crossed paths with a handful of young cyclists, circling the lot on bikes. My gut said talk to them. So, I did. As it turns out, the cyclists were siblings (among them, the drummer from rock band Anberlin) preparing to train for a 5K with their grandfather – the last one he intended to run, because knee pain pushed him to retire from running. It became one of the favorite stories I wrote – and I only wrote it because I talked to strangers.

Your senses are your friends. Whether what you write reads well might depend on whether you use them. Without senses, the 9/11 first responder you write about couldn\’t see through smoke. With senses, “Pulverized debris settled like dust on the city. (He) breathed it in. His mouth tasted like metal, but he worked.” Facts are fabulous, but details – which we find by using our senses, or borrowing the senses of the people about whom we write – are better. If you aren’t there to see, smell, hear, taste, or touch it, ask your story’s subject what they saw, smelled, heard, tasted, or felt.

Writer’s block doesn\’t exist. One afternoon in a newsroom, I buried my face with my hands and shook my head in front of a blank screen. A seasoned colleague noticed. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Writer’s block,” I said. “But writer’s block doesn\’t exist,” he said. If you’re a writer, you can write. When you feel like you can’t, it isn\’t because you can’t. It’s because you need more information. Gather it. Browse the web for blog fodder. Conduct a follow-up interview. Talk to strangers again. The ability you thought you lost will come back when you do.

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Arleen Spenceley is a Roman Catholic writer who primarily writes about love, chastity, and sex, and wrote for the Tampa Bay Times for five years. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com, tweets @ArleenSpenceley, and Facebooks (is that a word?) here. Click here to read the feature story about a 9/11 first responder she quoted above and wrote in 2011.

© 2013. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author:

Edmund Mitchell is a Catholic youth minister with a passion for Jesus, evangelization, and rugby - especially when all three happen at once. For now he enjoys being a Catholic hipster, until too many people start enjoying it with him, then he'll probably go mainstream. He blogs over at CatholicYouthMinister.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/EdmundMitchell.

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