Young writers and seasoned editors can benefit from personal writing style
By Mindy Ward, AAEA President-Elect
“Dorsey the Dorset” by Cassidy Ward. It was the first original work of my then 8-year-old daughter. If you just searched Amazon for a copy, you realized it cannot be added to your cart. It was never published. However, this story full of adventures between a girl and her sheep taught me one thing—writing is personal.
Today, I still use that idea as a guiding principle to mentor a young writer. Missouri Ruralist has a history of providing one university senior with the opportunity to write a monthly feature aptly named “College Farmer.” The content ranges from production issues to personal columns. My goal is to allow the individual to work through a process which leads to a personal writing style.
Here is part of my process.
Tackle writing mechanics. Like it or not, there is a correct way to structure a sentence. Using review tools like “Tracking” in Word documents can help writers not only read, but also see mistakes. Nothing prompts change like red text and lines on a computer screen. For young writers, focus on the red and fix it. As a manager, don’t skip this step. Without proper mechanics you will find little success in the process.
Uncover the audience. My readers are Missouri farmers and ranchers who want to be enlightened, engaged, and entertained. More importantly, they want me to get to the point. As a young writer, take time to understand your audience. If you haven’t lived in the area or are now working in a new industry, do your homework. Visit farms or companies and talk to the people. For managers, be upfront with young writers about audience expectations. Are they readers who lean into Wall Street Journal technical or long form stories? Do clients like short, quick verse? Is it both? This can often be the most confusing issue for young writers. Clear direction is best.
Set the tone. Believe it or not you can have more than one writing tone. I have two distinct tones—one for blogs and one for news stories. Right now, you can almost hear my blog tone—pointed, lighthearted and a little sarcastic. However, when it comes to news articles or production features, I am straight Journalism 101—present the facts and let the reader decide. We get into trouble when our blog tone seeps over to news reporting. So, keep them separate. Young writers, build tone versatility. I think it is important to have some depth in your writing style. As managers, encourage the next generation to push themselves to be adaptable writers.
Sing it and sell it. This is a technique I share with many young writers. The story lead needs to be one that draws me in no matter if it is a profile, technical feature, or breaking news. It can be an upbeat or dramatic song, but it must invite them to listen or read on. Build on the introduction with solid information. Then wrap up your story by selling it. Here you are drawing the individual back to why they started reading in the first place, but you leave them with a lasting thought that makes the story one to remember.
These are just a few of my tips. Bottomline, foster new techniques in writing. It is not a one-size-fits-all industry. There is room for personal style, just ask my daughter.
Mindy Ward is the AAEA President-Elect. She is also the senior content director with Farm Progress.