How do I find time to write longer stories?
I cover the medical and health beat. I would love
to work on longer stories and special projects. But since
I write an average of four stories a week, there's just no
time! How can I do great stories when routine ones swallow
all my time? -- Swallowed Whole
This is the classic reporter's lament: You're so busy writing
that there's no time to write.
My advice: Learn how to collect string. That is, identify
a larger story (say, alternative-medicine techniques used
in area hospitals). Talk to your editor about it. (This is
key. It would be silly for you to spend time working on something
your editor has no interest in.) Then set aside 20 minutes
a day. During these windows of time, collect string on your
idea: an interview here, a few phone calls there, some e-mails
here, a magazine article read in your last few minutes at
work. Next time you're at the hospital for a daily interview,
find 40 minutes to do an interview on your larger topic. Each
time you collect a piece of string, write it up as a scene
or a block of manageable information to keep in a running
file in your computer. That way, the information stays fresh.
After several weeks of collecting, you'll have enough to build
your story. You then can tell your editor: "I've done the
reporting on this story; I need a few days to pull it all
together." These words are far less daunting to an editor
than, "I'd like to do this huge project on Ÿ." And the time-management
skills you'll learn will serve you well in all stories, no
matter how long.
About the column
Ask the Coach is updated regularly. Have a suggestion for
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