What I love about writing classes is how immediately applicable each week’s reading or assignment is to my daily life. I write a lot in my day job for clients and one lesson, in particular, helped me reshape my thinking. The journalism assignment helped reawaken things I’d once known and forgotten but also introduced new concepts I’d never learned. Many years ago, I wrote for the school paper. I still have each issue we published somewhere buried in my basement.
These days, I write regular articles on health topics, among other things. These are informative pieces for patients. They get a decent amount of traction, but something about them had been bothering my colleague and me for months. We felt it might be pointless to churn out more informative articles when the web is full of health encyclopedias like WebMD and Mayo Clinic. We needed something different to make our articles unique.
Learning the “formula” for journalistic writing opened my eyes to what my writing needed: a local angle! In recent articles, I’ve been interviewing patients and incorporating their personal experiences into each topic. Our new articles are not only more enjoyable to write, but they are also more relatable because they now have a human element they lacked before.
Writing is full of recipe ingredients that can be tasted but not readily identified by the consumer. What makes a profile a profile? What makes a news article different from an op-ed? We usually understand what kind of media we’re consuming, even if we cannot pick out individual ingredients.
Writing classes for me are like getting to stand beside the cook and learn which combination of spices make one chicken dish taste “Jamaican” while another is “Italian.” Once I’ve had the elements of a dish pointed out, my eyes are opened and I can identify them on my own. This type of “aha” moment is the best payoff for taking the time to go back to school.
Another eye-opening lesson was the reminder that writing and visuals are really two tools from the same box. Of course, I’ve understood this concept for a long time (I’m a designer) but seeing it through the lens of a writing class has helped me to take more ownership of both sides of the process when I’m given a project out of my comfort zone. One project I’ve always struggled with is the “product video.” Seeing it as a writing project rather than just a visual project has helped me to brainstorm better ways to explain a product’s value on screen. Instead of standing in a sterile studio demonstrating features, I now focus on benefits to the user. What problem does the product solve and why should anyone care? It makes for a messier workflow because we can’t demonstrate everything in a studio. But approaching each video as if I were writing about the item helps me focus on what’s important to communicate and produces a better end product.