This summer has been a whirlwind of self-discovery that started this spring. When I began my masters, I heard — from reputable sources — a lot about what I should do to stay marketable in an ever-changing job market. The air was thick with all the hot buzzwords: multimedia, digital journalism, social media, Final Cut Pro, hyper-local.
But even though I knew a lot about what I thought I should do with my career, I wasn’t sure what I wanted or needed to be happy in work, besides coffee.
So I started trying everything. I quickly learned the things I don’t want in my work life — 70 hour work weeks with inadequate financial compensation, constantly cold-calling potential sources, the constraints and insanity of a 1440/7 news cycle, covering anything involving hotel construction or real estate.
But I also discovered the facets of journalism that bring me joy: the creative problem-solving of editing, getting to know someone during in-depth interviews, public service, the constant opportunities to learn, research and teach, the endless possibilities of multimedia storytelling.
But above all else, whether it’s published on the web, in print, or read aloud, there is something that makes me happiest — writing.
I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve also been very protective of my work, scared to put it out there to get shot down, worried that it’s too low tech, that it won’t pay my bills.
Luckily, I’ve had a community of professors, classmates, and supervisors at Columbia who’ve helped me shuck years of self-doubt surrounding my writing. They’ve encouraged me, nudged me forward, and offered me the opportunities, tools and the flexibility I need in order to figure out the stories I need to tell and then go tell them.
I first realized I may be a writer in seminar this spring. We read books — I missed books! — by narrative journalist experts Jeff Toobin and Malcom Gladwell.
We read longer pieces from my favorites: Slate, Salon, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New Yorker (which I have enjoyed ever since I received my first subscription as a 13th birthday present). I reveled in grafs more than 30 words long and prose that was not written at a sixth grade reading level.
My world was rocked by narrative journalism that combines the research I love to do with the skilled, stylized writing I love to read.
As we wrote our own pieces, dabbling in opinion, interpretive, and feature writing, I realized I enjoyed this more than any part of any daily news I’d done so far. It’s what I hoped journalism school would be. It was smart and full of my own voice, but also powerful, educational, and memorable. It’s news delivered in a way that makes people think and discuss it, storytelling that captures imaginations and emotions.[flickr id=”7135389773″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
This summer, I’m expanding my writer’s toolkit and trying new things in Creative Non-Fiction, taught by journalist and writer Sam Weller. It’s amazing, the amount of work I do for that class that hardly feels like work at all. I’m in love with writing, and I lose myself in it. I think about it all the time, even when I probably shouldn’t.
There’s a tradition of journalist authors — Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Susan Orlean, Katherine Boo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Julie Keller, Rebecca Skloot, among others — authors who know how to tell a page-turning, news-relevant true story in beautiful, literary language. It may be challenging, but I want to join their ranks someday, telling important, immersive stories.