Going into Fall — Where I’m at with my Writing Journey
This article was originally published on davidnwaeze.com on September 12, 2021
Alright! I’m writing! I’m trying to create a little of something every day. I’m attempting to finish something at least once a week. I’ve even begun to dabble in video creation content for YouTube, Tik Tok, and Instagram. Bit by bit, I’ve been catching up on my backlog of pieces to meet my minimum writing quota for my blogs (As of this posting, I am only 14 pieces in the weeds). I can see the horizon of my break-even point ahead of me. I’m chugging along to that place where I feel at least minimally comfortable expressing my ideas and observations in print and — hopefully — through video. But I’m still struggling with a piece that’s a normal difficulty for many beginning writers: Trajectory. Just where am I going with all of this, and how do I get there?
Recognizing that it’s impossible to forge a way forward in this world without taking the advice of others who’ve been roughly in the ballpark of where you want to go, I’ve sought out many writing resources this past year. Among them is author and New School/NYU writing professor Susan Shapiro’s The Byline Bible. In it, Shapiro takes readers through the ins and outs of getting published in the sometimes brutal landscape of non-fiction writing. Her approach to this is a path from personal narrative writing to regional clip writing to opinion pieces, short humor, and, finally, service clips. As I’ve been charting my course into my writing, I’m considering this guidance. What I’m having a little bit of trouble with is connecting these modalities to what I want to do.
I know what I want to do: I want to write non-fiction narratives and news journalism, and documentary dedicated to underreported niche interests. If I managed to release some helpful opinions and perspectives into the world, that’d be pretty amazing, too. However, what drives me and what I have a passion for is seeking out obscure or buried knowledge about who we are and how we see ourselves in the world to shift the lens subtly and increase our understanding of our world the communities that inhabit it. That should be the goal of any good journalist, in my opinion. It certainly is central to the kind of journalist that I aspire to become. A key part in this journey is figuring out how to make any approach to my writing serve that interest. For my specific projects, I’m focused on:
- Contemporary life and culture in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Separatist, secessionist, and independence movements in the rich world.
- International travel beyond the frame of typical tourism.
I’ve been working on personal essays. I want to write a few drafts before settling on the one story to run through the revision mill ad nauseam until it shines as the best version of the story I want to tell that I can push it to be. As I’m aiming for a few of the most prestigious publications I can, my challenge with this will likely include the painful process of rejection after rejection and further revision until it’s better than I could have imagined it turning out on my own. I have reservations about having my first professionally published piece being about myself. Aside from the adage that reporters should “Report the story, don’t become part of it”, it’s an uncomfortably vulnerable place to put oneself. However, if I can successfully connect the story to my interests and projects (my “beat”), such a start could be priceless.
As for a regional, this plays well toward practice in reportage and building nearby editorial contacts. Given that Secessio Populi deals in movements that are abundant in the Pacific Northwest, I have an overall pick of subjects to narrow in on. If I wanted to walk it into the travel writing angle, I have that option. Possibly the most difficult to work in would be the African angle. Yet, the region still has an African diaspora — of recent immigrant or middle passage lineage — and subsequent cultural connections back to the continent. I merely need to seek these out. I should find it somewhat easy to figure out a way to work a regional into my beat.
The opinion will come easy to me. However, the question here isn’t can I write an opinion piece on anything in my subject areas but should I? As I’ve been digging into these subjects, I’ve developed a sense of some of the internal controversies which plague each of them. It’s pretty easy to find controversial arguments for positions on just about anything on the internet these days. So how do I best serve the aim of changing people’s perspectives? I’m probably not going to get there by simply presenting my own and expecting anyone who doesn’t already agree with me to be convinced of my position. Even worse, what if my presentation of my opinion clouds the stories I might want to tell or loses me access to people I might want to talk to about them? I’m not incredibly concerned about the last two pieces of this (“though shit,” I suppose!). If I’m to serve my storytelling and understanding-expanding goals, though, I will have to be creative enough with any opinion pieces I put together to meet this challenge.
A short humor piece sounds fun until I settle into the recognition that I’m not particularly interested in producing laughter. Humor — like anger — is an easy commodity that anyone can tune into all over the internet. A much more lofty and hard to come by challenge is telling the story that makes its reader feel the deeper emotions of grief, terror, or ecstasy. These more serious emotions are easy to tap into in my subject areas but much more difficult to elicit from readers until mastering the art behind them. Non-fiction short tragedy, suspense, or ecstatic romance are probably my aim here. I can admit that I know next to nothing about these styles or sub-genres as of this writing.
I also barely understand what a good service clip is at this point. Here, I’m totally in the weeds. Thinking for a moment about how to connect my subjects to informative, practical, concise, and up-to-date articles, I can see the draft headlines now: “How to Beat the Accra Summer Heat,” “How to Start a New Country, and Overthrow a Dictatorship,” “How to Illegally Smuggle Yourself Into and Out of North Korea.” To be honest, I can also easily imagine which publications I would want to pitch any of these to (Travel + Leisure, Foreign Policy, and Vice, respectively). It doesn’t feel like a style I am interested in at this point, though.
If I’ve been learning anything lately, though, it’s that I am constantly surprised by what I enjoy and what I can learn something from. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a great deal about how to process the nearly limitless information I’m able to come across through my news feeds and social media. I’ve learned which outlets look more or less promising for my usage in putting the stories I want to push out into the world out there. But, most of all, I’ve learned that sometimes the fun parts are in the places you least expect them to be. So, I’m going into this adventure with an open mind and a curious heart.
I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of it all.