Advice for All Writers

By author and journalist Linda Pannozzo. Presented at the first OFOS writing workshop in October 2019.

  • Write about what moves you, what makes you angry or sad, or what you find interesting. Because chances are, if you feel that way about the subject matter so do a bunch of other people.
  • Be open-minded. Don’t censor yourself. This is a big problem nowadays: people are afraid to talk about issues because they’re worried about being shut down, trolled, etc. Turn off your phones and social media before you let that kind of toxic energy control what you say or think.
  • Write even if you feel like you can’t start. When I was at journalism school, one of my professors was the late Michael Cobden. He was a veteran journalist and wrote prolifically for various newspapers for many years. When I was in his class, I didn’t realize how important his advice would be but he said to us: “Even if you feel blocked and don’t know where to start your article, just start. Write something down, you can always re-arrange it or change it later.” It’s so true. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is starting. We feel we can’t start until ideas are perfectly organized in our heads. Michael said just start. It was the best advice ever.
  • Take walks. That’s when your best ideas happen and also when a lot of that organization of your ideas also happens.
  • Question the information. It’s hard to be a good journalist today; there is so much fake information out there. With the internet, pretty much anyone can post something and make it look real. You have to look into the information you are planning to report on. Find out if it’s credible. Is it funded by someone? Who? Do they have a financial stake in that story being told? Are there conflicts of interest?
  • Try not to feed into our already polarized society. Unfortunately this is often what media outlets do because they want website hits—and controversy/conflict gets hits. Media outlets want a “he said, she said” kind of story. But life is really complicated and nuanced, and there are usually many more than two sides to a story.
  • Read, read, and read. You’ll get so many ideas if you read.
  • Observe and listen to what’s going on in your community. A lot of good stories get communicated that way.
  • Pay attention to your own backstory. When you’re writing a story, pay attention to how your own life story is shaping the one you’re writing. How do your experiences, biases, emotions, shape what you are writing?
Alexa McDonough Institute Environment and Climate Change Canada Understorey Magazine