Confessions of an Anxious Journalist

Journalism didn’t come naturally for me. I chose the degree of English Literature on my first day of college. After 10 weeks of classes it became apparent that I could basically use that degree for only two careers: teaching or publishing novels. I didn’t want to teach, and the prospect of making it big on a novel are slim, so my counselor recommended I try Journalism.

My Journalism classes were inspiring and exciting — I found my tribe of people who were likewise set on changing the world and toeing the line of overdosing on coffee!

There was just one not-so-small snag: interviews. It was difficult enough to get my participation points in class, let alone think of asking a person questions! Looking back, my fear seems bizarre, but I’d always struggled with being a shy, socially-anxious person. College was my first diversion from being home-schooled and I seriously lacked social skills. I just wanted to write without having to interact with anyone, was that so much to ask? Spoiler alert: it was, according to my professors.

My first interview was over the phone, shakily asking the owner of a bakery questions while desperately trying to take adequate notes. It was so terrifying that I remember dreading it for hours prior to the interview and internally picking it apart for days afterward.

I thought there was no hope for me as a journalist after college. Who would want to answer questions from a self-conscious newbie? So I did the only natural thing to do when faced with a dilemma: I turned to Google. The search “socially-anxious journalist” pulled up several narratives from people like me, people who desperately wanted to flourish in their career despite crippling anxiety.

This newfound knowledge coupled with some helpful tips bolstered my courage and inspired me to keep trucking along. Now I want to share some tips that have aided me through dozens of interviews.

  1. People love to talk about themselves. This is a fact and one that helps journalists immensely. Yes, there are occasional exceptions where you have to pry answers from your sources, but if you show interest in their specialty/company/story 99 percent of the time you’ll get your answers.
  2. Adequate research builds confidence. I ALWAYS research my subject and prepare a list of questions prior to an interview. It’s ridiculously easy for today’s journalists to do this. We have a world of knowledge at our fingertips with the internet, so feel free to use it to your advantage.
  3. Remember that people won’t ruminate over your mistakes, so you shouldn’t either! I’ve stuttered, misspoke, even had to apologize for completely losing my train of thought: nobody has ever minded and I survived — even when I have to hear the painful playback while transcribing!
  4. It gets easier. Really, it does. I still have my nerve-wracking moments, especially if my interview subject is difficult, but it’s infinitely easier now that I have practice and have learnt from my mistakes *ahem* fyi make sure your voice recording device has full battery charge before every interview…
  5. Try to keep your end goal in mind. Think of the incredible piece of Journalism you’re going to have the privilege to craft after your interview is wrapped up! Plus, you’ll always leave an interview with more knowledge than you had before and that’s pretty awesome.

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I hope this helps someone feel a bit more confident as a journalist! Happy writing! 🙂

Freelance Writing

My neglectful hiatus from this blog isn’t ENTIRELY due to procrastination… I’ve also been busy writing freelance articles for a few local magazines. So that counts for something — too busy to write here because I’ve been writing elsewhere… right?

Well anyway, after months spent applying to random freelance postings on sites that pay measly $ and sadly also don’t give credit to the author, I was offered an excellent opportunity in July.

It has been difficult to get into a routine of finding the time to interview, transcribe those interviews, write the story and then go through edits with clients  — all while watching my almost-two-year-old son.

The knowledge I’ve received from the various interviews is priceless, further solidifying my degree choice of Journalism (minor in English). It will never get old to have the “authority” to ask questions and in return people open up to you… as long as you ask the right questions.

I’m toying with the idea of blogging about my freelancing experiences, embarrassing moments and all, with some hopefully helpful tips sprinkled throughout!

Please leave a comment if you would be interested in freelance posts!

Journaling as Meditation

writing_flickrAt nine years old, I put gel pen to Hello Kitty notebook paper and created my first journal entry. I wish I still owned that little notebook to see what issues weighed heavily on my young mind, but I distinctly remember the feelings of freedom and secrecy this simple act unlocked.

I kept a journal quite regularly for many years, only coming to a screeching halt when my parents read the one I’d kept from ages 14—15. I promptly trashed that journal, never wanting to re-read the same thoughts my parents had picked apart.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college, when the pull to have a private space where I could record my thoughts crept up on me in English class. The professor declared it an important practice to keep a journal and part of our homework was to keep a reflection notebook during the class.

Now, as an aspiring writer, logging my thoughts is one of the most important aspects of my writing routine. Every morning I write three pages with stream of consciousness thought — a practice called “morning pages” I learned from the book “Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Getting my often jumbled thoughts down first thing in the morning leaves me clear-headed for the rest of the day.

Still not convinced? Here are some benefits of journaling that might make you want to pick up your pen:

Increased creativity. Sitting down to write regularly will help free your mind from any pesky thoughts that could be blocking creative inspiration. Journaling also lets us view life in a more precise way, because we’re slowing down to internally process our thoughts. Sitting down to mindfully write for a few moments allows the brain to empty onto the page, reset and be recharged for the rest of the day.

Lessened anxiety. Many therapists recommend journaling to ease anxious thoughts. Writing down my worries helps me work through them as they materialize on paper.
If something has been weighing heavily on your mind, write about it, read it over and see if your perception has changed. If you can, take a negative thought you’ve been struggling with and counteract it with (small) steps you can take to fix the problem. Problems often seem overwhelmingly large in our thoughts, but when we write it down it’s easier to accept and find a solution.

Memories. Just as we love looking back at old photos (throwback Thursday, anyone?), reading entries you wrote several years ago is nostalgic and a way to see how far you’ve grown. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read what was important to you five, or even 10 years ago?

Improved Writing Skills. Journaling on a regular basis will help you discover your writing voice. If you get to the point where you’ve filled up several notebooks over the years, looking back on old notebooks will show you how far you’ve come in your writing style. Nobody will read and critique your journal unless you give them permission, so there’s no need to worry about having perfect punctuation or proper grammar. However, if you gain a better understanding of those rules during the course of journaling it’s an added bonus!

Accomplishment. Over time, you can look back and see growth. At the very least, you’ll have a notebook completely filled with your own original thoughts. If you keep with it, you might have a bookshelf filled with musings and the goings-on of your life.

Now that you know the benefits, here are some ideas on how to get started:

Pick out your supplies. This is my favorite part! Did I mention I tend to hoard pens and notebooks? Find a notebook you like enough to use it every day. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; there are countless inexpensive options online, at a local bookshop or in the office aisle of a retail store.

Make time to write. Personally, I like to journal in the morning. If I’m anxious about something later that day, it helps me to process and plan for the event. If I don’t have anything planned that particular day, I might write down a few goals to accomplish so I start the day on a productive note. Some people prefer to write before bed, to wind down at the end of the day. Find the right time for yourself and it will be much easier to keep the habit going.

Get creative. If the blank page is too intimidating, try writing a list. Maybe it’s a list of goals you want to accomplish by the end of the day, or the top things on your mind at the moment. Or, you could write down all the things you’re grateful for right now — gratitude journals are particularly uplifting.

However you choose to approach journaling, know that you are, at the very least, taking time out of your day for self care. Once you get into a routine of treating your thoughts with the importance they deserve, you’ll become a more authentic and open version of yourself.

Moments

naturefairytaledoorwayLife is full of electric moments. You know the ones: time stands still, every sense is heightened, and your spirit is split wide open absorbing the moment like a sponge.

I live for those moments. They are spontaneous, yet I find myself attempting to create them, or trying to grasp onto them and stretch time so I can revel in the bubble a little longer.

The first time I experienced this was when I was very young, riding in the backseat of the family car, the windows rolled down on a summer evening. I can still feel the humid air on my face, carrying the scents of honeysuckle and fresh cut grass and dense foliage. I wanted to suspend time so I could keep experiencing the magic.

Nowadays nature still elicits the same response, as does my son’s laughter, or when I’m deep in a writing project, or I hear a beautiful song.

What triggers electric moments for you?

My Writing Space

My desk is one of my favorite places. As a writer I spend countless hours sitting at it, either typing on my laptop, writing by hand in a notebook, or procrastinating any number of ways.

I’ve always been fascinated by seeing other writer’s spaces. When I was around 11 years old, my family took me on a short road trip to visit the home of author Gene Stratton-Porter in Rome, Indiana. I’ll never forget that trip, because it’s when I first felt the inspiration of peeking into another writer’s life. Gene’s home in Wildflower Woods is insanely gorgeous and I remember thinking it was the ideal writing space. I still feel that way, and am planning another visit to her memorial soon!

In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she writes; “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I agree with this, but am currently writing from one side of the bedroom I share with my husband. I had my own writing room when we first moved to this house, but after a year it turned into my son’s nursery. Someday I’ll have my very own space, and until then I’m very thankful for my cozy corner.

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This is my desk on a tidy day. It usually looks like this, although sometimes it gets bogged down with flurries of papers and coffee cups.

On the far left side of the desk I have two magazine organizers which I use to hold notebooks I’m currently using, my sketchbook and a couple of file folders with important documents. Then, the first row of books are some of my favorite about writing that I own, and the second row are library books I’m working my way through.

That typewriter was a thrift store find for only $10. It came with the 1960 user manual, and I just had to replace the ink ribbon to get it working. I mostly use that pink laptop for all my writing projects and keep notes and lists in notebooks.

Not pictured: my extensive collection of pens and notebooks. That could be a standalone post since I have so many and am particular about which products I prefer.

Happy writing!