Tag Archives: Jeff Goins

The Write Life: Opt for ‘remarkable’

Saturday in Jackson’s Journal is The Write Life, a trek past the mundane and beyond the borders of creativity. This is where we celebrate the craft of writing, storytelling and connecting with the hearts, minds and souls of readers.

I love my job as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I now have 30-plus years of newspaper clips as evidence of my role as a modern-day scribe, chronicling the events and people who I’ve been fortunate to encounter.

Like most writers and reporters, my work leads me to rather paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand, I do believe that what I do is important. I’m telling and reporting history. Live. As it happens. On the other hand, I often believe that what I actually produce is gibberish and not very important because it’s so poorly done.

This week I wrote an article about a rural water district’s bookkeeping problems. Maybe the water district has only 2,500 customers, but to those payers and for the community where the district is located, that’s a big deal.

Without the aid and patience of a gifted editor, however, no one was going to read beyond the lede sentence. I mean, for crying out loud, I learned to write a lede — how to “hook” the reader — in high school. What I presented to my editor began like this: “Officials with Public Water Supply District 4 at Hallsville …”

And I lost her. SHE didn’t read beyond that bland, lazy launch into an important story. Worst of all, I filed the story knowing that the lede stunk. Did that mean I lost sight of the importance of what I do for a living? Probably. Sometimes the reporting and writing seems effortless. Sometimes it’s clumsy and confusing.

My editor, Lora Wegman, insisted on a new lede. This is what I came up with:

“Failure to pay payroll taxes on some expenses and paying a higher-than-allowed mileage reimbursement rate are just two of the bookkeeping issues a former office manager brought to the attention of Public Water Supply District 4 board members Tuesday.”

Better, wouldn’t you say? I got right to it. Still a bit wordy, but so much more interesting and readable than, “Officials said …”

My sophomore (and last) year in college I was editor-in-chief of The Muleskinner, the campus newspaper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. The managing editor and I decided to reject any article that began with the words “the,” “a” or “an.” Our motto: “Get to the point.” We had journalism professors and all manner of academics argue about our unbending ban, but we won every argument. (Or so we thought. And it was that attitude that led me to leave college after two years because I really did think I knew it all).

Get to the point. If we’re writing something important, get to it. And in today’s newspaper world of a shrinking news hole, maximizing the words we use is top priority — well, second to the journalistic trinity of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The water district story was important to those customers, but I’m also convinced it was a big deal to all readers because watch-dogging and exposing what might be less-than-transparent operations ought to serve notice on all public entities entrusted with the people’s money.

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I buy into that aim. My first weekly newspaper boss used to say that photos of car crashes — and sometimes just the crashed car, because maybe we missed the actual accident — made everyone drive more safely.

I remember asking, “Then why do we keep seeing wrecks?”

My publisher, Norman Gallagher, scowled at my seemingly logical question and zinged me with a challenge. “Why don’t we do a better job getting their attention? Let’s tell the story better.”

Mr. Gallagher’s zeal for the truth was sometimes sidetracked by prejudice and personal vendettas, but he was passionate about telling the story.

“Let’s tell the story better.”

That brings me, in a rabbit-trail-chasing sort of way, to the point made by author/writer Jeff Goins, whom I consider a writer’s writer.

“What is up to you is the choice to be remarkable. As is the decision to be mediocre.”

That’s the conclusion Jeff reaches in Friday’s post, “The first day of the rest of your life.” Check out his blog.

Then choose to be remarkable.

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Filed under A reporter's life, Living Write

Snowpocalypse revisited

Last year, Feb. 1, 2011, was the first actual blizzard I’ve ever experienced. The massive snowstorm ranked No. 5 on my list of lifetime weather events and sparked the birth of Jackson’s Journal.

There had been one earlier post with a rather ironic title, considering it was a month before the next post — the blizzard-inspired list of my all-time lifetime weather events — and then a 10-month lapse in posts until a certain pregnancy put me in grandpa-in-waiting mode. (The Journal’s December rebirth led to the Countdown to Kianna that began Jan. 12, and the blog has lived every day since).

On Feb. 1, 2012, the temperature was 55. Today’s high could reach 60. But one year ago today, this was Chris Drive after the snow and wind finally headed east.

Countdown to Kianna

Twenty, 19, 18, 17 days to go until both Kishia and Kianna can stretch as much as they want to. Seventeen days — give or take a few days or hours, depending on the whims of gestation, labor and delivery — until Darnell gets to hold his baby girl. (I mean his littlest, newborn baby girl).

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #20

It’s you.

A few days ago, master blogger/Christian writer Jeff Goins triggered a tsunami of epiphanies in my head with some rather paradoxical advice: If you want to write to a larger crowd, be more specific. 

I never thought of it like that, but his brilliant ideas are spot-on profound, kind of like the few words of advice you get after climbing a high peak to speak with a mystical elder. And this is how Jeff’s post ends:

“So write for that one person for whom this will matter. Give her a name, if you like. Put her picture on your desktop. Write for her and only her. She will appreciate it — trust me.”

Of course! I didn’t know it, but that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve already been writing for “that one person.” Sure, my mom — one of your Great-Grandmas — waits patiently for the actual completion and publication of my first novel, and I think of her often when I’m tinkering with words and crafting stories. She taught me to love words, reading and books. And Kelly — your Grammy (Mrs. Grandpa) — has been the actual focus of hundreds of stories, columns and poems through the years. I also share ownership of my bylines, blog posts and word-crafting with your mommy, Kishia, and her sister, Auntie Tasha, because their hopes, dreams, heartbreak and struggles have always been part of my heart.

But now who is “that one person for whom this will matter?”

It’s you, Kianna.

It’s you.


Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

Living write: Navigating the cyber clutter

Countdown to Kianna: 25, 24, 23, 22 days … until the princess Kianna Allene Brown makes a very celebrated entry into our lives — as if she doesn’t already consume our every waking moment.

Now for our regular Saturday programming …

The moment you’ve finished reading this post, do nothing else until you have bookmarked, earmarked, dog-eared or subscribed to the blogs that I’m introducing you to. You can thank me later. For now, though, focus on the profound discoveries I’m going to share. (And you already know there’s an entry for Grandpa’s message to Kianna at the bottom of the post; kind of like the prize at the bottom of a box of cereal. You know, like back in the days of 8-track dashboard consoles?)

Maybe you’ve see Hoarders on the A&E network or Confessions: Animal Hoarding on Animal Planet? I’m ashamed to say I could be a hoarder except that Kelly, by bride of 30 years, wouldn’t allow it. I tend to collect and amass “stuff.” I’m much better than I used to be, but left to my own devices and given enough passage of time, I’d probably find myself someday saying, “Huh. Where IS the front door?”

My email in-boxes are something of a cluttered mess. (At last count I had 10 email addresses, seven of which are devoted solely to Fantasy Baseball, yet another example of digital hoarding). My “favorites” box on Twitter is a hoarder’s dream.  And it’s a constant battle to keep my computer desktops from becoming labyrinths of icons.

But since you’ve tuned in to Jackson’s Journal today, that means you are interested in, perhaps even crave, becoming a better writer. And you have no doubt wondered, “Huh? I’ll bet there are myriad websites and blogs out there that could help satisfy my yearning for writing tips, inspiration and motivation.” And you would be correct.

However, I have already navigated the vast sea of such blogs and websites, and hereby present you with a few of the blogs I follow. The ones listed here are top priority, so you’re okay if you don’t add to the list on your own. Just check back here periodically – Saturdays are probably best – for new entries for your blog-reading menu.

The SINGLE BEST Twitter feed for writers is @elizabethcraig, and her website  has been named by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 100 websites for writers three or four years running. But you must follow her on Twitter. She collects all the best stuff for writers in the Twitterverse and posts it every week.

It’s kind of like having someone bring the old Shoney’s breakfast buffet right to your desk. Very nice.

Two other websites and blogs to get connected with are The Write Practice  and Mighty Red Pen. Even if you’re not currently obsessed with learning to never use passive voice again, as I am, Mighty Red Pen is a very entertaining blog/website.

It has convinced me that indeed grammar are fun. (Um, I meant to do that. See what I did?)

Two authors/writers produce daily can’t-miss content. Jeff Goins and Roz Morris are equal parts inspiration and drill sergeant. For writers waiting for someone to give them their marching orders to “GO WRITE!”, Jeff Goins is your guy. Roz, who also goes by the Twitter ID of @dirtywhitecandy, resides across the pond, as they say. Both writers are generous with their advice and encouragement.

Finally, if you’re simply looking for a brief but usually hilarious daily diversion, let me introduce you to “Riding in Cars with Goats and Other Stories” by my wacky colleague Caroline Dohack. CD grew up in Doniphan, Mo., just a stone’s throw from the Bootheel, in the poorest county in Missouri. Just a head’s up, though: frequent coarse language.

And now …

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #15: You’re going to have lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them. And if I don’t have the answers, well, I’ve got the books. Really, I do. My collection includes What Makes Flamingos Pink?, Do Penguins Have Knees?, Do Fish Drink Water?, and Why Does Popcorn Pop?

And when you’re a little older, you’ll want to read Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things and, my favorite, Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody.

Can’t wait!


Filed under Kianna Allene Brown, Living Write