In my time with working for The Review, I met have many writers I admire; their styles, structure, and overall use of language all engage me, improving my writing along the way. I’ll say that many of those writers are my peers and still work for the paper, although many have left and gone onto jobs in journalism or non-profit. For myself, the writer I consistently find myself inspired by is Lisa Ryan, a junior Communications major and fellow Review editor. Not only is she a good friend, but a great reservoir of knowledge when it comes to all things journalism. Here are the questions I asked her. I hope you get something out of this, hopefully just as much as I did.
Growing up, what books/genres were you reading and why?
I read constantly growing up, and when I was in elementary school I was very interested in fantasy (Harry Potter, Ella Enchanted), and I also read a lot of historical fiction. Growing up, I read fewer books about modern people in everyday situations than I would later in life. I think my interest in historical fiction and fantasy had to do with my interest in lives that are different from my own, which makes sense in hindsight, since I’m studying journalism now. However, that curiosity doesn’t really explain why I began to prefer young adult (YA) realistic fiction in middle school and high school. At that point, I was interested in reading about people who were dealing with the same problems I was as a young person. I found it comforting to see my own teenage experiences reflected, and I want to write YA someday to (hopefully) give someone else that feeling of understanding.
Did you reading habits grow up influence the style in which you write?
My earliest reading habits (fantasy and historical fiction) taught me a great deal about world building, the process of creating a lifelike and compelling setting for a story. Although I do not think I will ever have the patience to create a setting as detailed as that of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, I still want to bring characters to life in settings that will feel real to my readers.
Like I said before, my positive experiences reading YA realistic fiction made me want to write for a teenage audience. One of my favorite writers, Sarah Dessen, is someone whose work I found in middle school; she writes funny, heartfelt stories in which teenaged or college-aged girls deal with complex family ties, romance and friendship. The books were not just entertaining to me, but meaningful, as the main characters deal with coming-of-age issues like finding one’s confidence or building an identity outside of others’ expectations. Sarah Dessen’s books, which I read and re-read growing up, made me want to write books that would help young people beat everyday boredom while still having the benefit of seeing their own lives reflected in the work.
Talk about working for The Review, the university’s independent, student-run newspaper. What makes the editor position that of envy?
I was very nervous when I began writing for The Review, as my main experience in nonfiction writing before then was based in columns. Luckily, the editors for whom I wrote were helpful and supportive; with their assistance, I learned a great deal in a short time. That opportunity to help others improve at an activity they enjoy is the most rewarding and enviable part of my current position as a Managing Editor of the Mosaic section. I am glad I can assist others who are unsure about their work as they are learning how to write in AP and/or Review style, because I wouldn’t be where I am now if someone had not worked with me in the same way.
As an editor, how often do you find yourself learning from the writings of your reporters?
One of the things I struggled with as a reporter was starting off my articles on a strong note with an attention-grabbing lede. I had trouble coming up with ledes that were engaging, but not cheesy – that is, until I started seeing the ledes that some of my reporters were writing. Reading others’ dynamic, original ledes from an editors’ perspective, carefully considering how they were written, helped me to improve my own writing in that area.
What are some goals you have for yourself after you leave college? Can we expect a book from you?
Ideally, I would like to be a reporter by day and an author of fiction by night. I know I’ve talked a lot about wanting to write YA coming-of-age fiction, but in college, I became interested in both mystery fiction and true crime stories. Because of that, it would be ideal if I could fill a mystery story with strong coming-of-age themes (family, identity, personal growth) and engaging characters; so far, it’s been a lot to fit into one story, but I’m going to keep trying. Hopefully you can expect a book from me someday!
In terms of journalism, I’ve worked in news as a general assignment reporter for my local paper two summers in a row, I would like to continue working in news reporting. My ultimate goal is to pursue investigative journalism; I am always impressed by the impact major investigations can make, and as someone who wants to make a difference in the world, this seems like a good way to do it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write professionally? Did you ever benefit from someone giving you advice?
Honestly, the one thing that I can say for sure has helped me get new opportunities in writing (getting hired for The Review, or getting an internship) is practice. In high school, I blogged when I could and wrote for the school newspaper; no one read our school’s paper besides our advisor, but hearing her feedback and that of others on the staff helped me to grow as a writer. From junior year of high school until now, I have just been trying to gain writing experience and take in constructive criticism or positive feedback wherever I can.
I also try to read widely in the areas (fiction and nonfiction) in which I want to write, whether I’m reading adult fiction along with YA fiction, or reading a personal essay after checking out news coverage. I was given that advice by a news editor who was my boss during a summer internship; throughout my eight weeks working for him, we would go over edits he had made to my articles that week, and on Friday afternoons he would take the time to ask me about my goals and give me advice on how to meet them. I have benefitted greatly from his advice, whether it was about gaining a better grasp on AP Style, or guidance he has given as I prepare to graduate and search for a job.