A guest post by senior Kate Stringer, who interned at Cargill Communications last summer.
“Let it fester.”
This is one of many nuggets of wisdom I retained from Dr. Orr’s Literary Studies course (English 225) freshman year. He was talking about revising. Our class lesson boiled down to this: Write your paper and then give it some time to fester. After all, trying to revise a paper written five minutes prior will do little besides revealing the occasional grammar error. Let it sit for a least a day – you want to come back and see boils with puss oozing out the sides. Then you’ll know what to change.
I loved this advice. After all, writing is hard; therefore it’s expected first drafts of anything will be messy. So why not treat revising as a necessary component of the writing process?
Outside the English classroom, I was frustrated to learn this frame of mind is not always held, especially in the fast-paced realm of online publishing. My internship at Cargill Communications this summer as well as my job at The Beacon have taught me that long-term revising isn’t always possible. The online world demands instant information, and the news source that gets it out first, whether or not it’s accurate, is rewarded by page views, advertising dollars, and higher rankings on Google’s news feed. Journalists are assigned several stories per day and expected to hand them in ASAW (as soon as written). Not “as soon as written and festered and revised.” No, it’s as soon as the last period mark has been placed on the last word of the last concluding sentence. Published.
A disclaimer: I’m not the ideal English major when it comes to revising papers. I’ve started many a paper the night before with nothing but a bar of chocolate and caffeinated tea to keep my thoughts in a semi-coherent state. And in these situations my revising process has been nothing more than a glance at grammar and a prayer that my professors can’t tell.
However, when I do have the opportunity to revise, I notice drastic differences in my paper and in my learning: I witness my chaotic mass of Times New Roman black shapes transform into a coherent argument. I see my thesis and my “so what” develop and make sense. I understand Charlotte Bronte’s decision to make the concluding paragraphs of Villette the worst ending in the history of literature (Lie. I will never understand why you did that, Bronte). But when I’m on deadline for a blog post for my internship or a breaking news article for The Beacon, I don’t have time to make sense of my writing. I just write as fast as possible and hope the final product makes sense to someone.
I’ve only experienced a taste of deadline madness at Cargill Communications and The Beacon. A few blog posts I’ve written have been news that needed immediate publishing; however, most have been a 24-48 hour production cycle. At The Beacon, the majority of my articles have had several days to fester before both my editors and I transformed them for publication. But as I look at my future—the world of sprint-writing—I start to wonder if my writing, or anyone’s writing, is good enough for instantaneous publication. Do good journalists just happen to get everything right the first time? Or do journalists pick up the newspaper and read their rushed articles and wish they had some antiseptic to clean up the festering ooze?
The online world has made it acceptable for readers to demand instantaneous information. But what effect does this have on both the writer and the reader? Are we missing something by forcing writers to submit their first drafts as final drafts?
Maybe more important to me is this question: do journalists find they have time to enjoy their craft? Or are they so rushed through writing that it becomes a chore? I am excited and hopeful about my future in journalism but simultaneously fearful. Can I keep up, and if I can, will the constant sprinting still be as rewarding as the longer run?