Tuesday notebook: What I’ve learned so far

Forest and Trees

A number of people have asked me what I’ve learned this semester. Not a knock on the program, but my first instinct is to respond with something like, “I’ll see in a few months.” I’m still in the trees, even though the clearing is just ahead with its helicopter waiting. In a few short days I’ll have a better view of the forest.

Nevertheless, the next answer comes: I’ve learned about genre, forms, the “weave” of a profile, the sections and purpose of a briefing note, the terms “scene” (in this case), “hed,” “dek,” “lede,” “nutgraf” and “write-around” and their technical definitions. The ability to look at a piece and identify those things. Basic, essential stuff that provides a critical foundation for future professional writing. Noticing the fact that I used both “essential” and “critical” in the same sentence, and being fine with it. Noticing the fact that most “sentences” in this paragraph are fragments, and being good with it. (A continued appreciation of parallelism, wink wink.) The way I naturally absorb and reproduce the tone and language of various genres.

I’ve also learned a good deal about the basics of freelancing and pitching, and grateful for the demystification that this learning has brought. The structure and length of a pitch, the contents of a freelancer’s invoice, the tax threshold of a small business. Stuff that I probably won’t need for a number of years, if ever: at this stage I do prefer the idea of working on staff with a publication, its familiarity, common purpose and relationships. And I look forward to my internship as part of a staff.

But again, I no longer see freelancing as this foreign mystery that I could never do. It’s also very true that it would entail ongoing, trust-building relationships just as much as any other work environment,. So I can now see the possibility that freelancing would allow me the flexibility to move between my very different niches, even on the same day or week. That’s been my experience as a student balancing six courses and a volunteer TFC site: see my portfolio for the range of stuff I’ve worked on.

Find the story

But the most important thing I’ve learned, the thing I’ll spend a lifetime learning, and in fact the thing that comes most naturally to me, is that I must always find the story. Why does this event or person matter, and matter right now? What questions might readers be asking, and how can I help answer them? Does my opinion, or my passion, connect with the experience of others? (This, by the way, seems to be the most important element of a pitch, maybe the only important element. So it’s what editors are looking for and what readers are looking for. It’s also what I’m looking for, since it’s the best way for me to just start the piece already!)

Maybe this focus on story comes from my experience with sermons: why does this passage in an ancient text matter to the real people I’ll see this coming Sunday? It’s clearly relevant to my genre fiction commentary: what’s the gist of this plot and character? How is that significant to real-world production news, trends and fandom conversations? And a soccer game, a tournament or a season: those are always stories of some sort: a story on the pitch, a story in the stands and a story in society; a happy story, a sad story or a ridiculous story. Our minds intuitively grasp cause and effect as a narrative flow: my job and my talent is to put hand to keyboard and express that narrative in prose.

As mentioned above, you can check out my Fall 2021 portfolio here to see some of the topics and genres that I explored. I couldn’t post everything: some assignments were more internal comms or otherwise didn’t fit with what the portfolio needs to be. If you’re curious about those other assignments and genres, please do send me an email and I’ll pass them along if possible. And if you’re interested in publishing any of the prose pieces, feel free to email me as well. Same goes for any comments or suggestions you might have.

Thanks for checking out this site as I continue this next stage in my story. Stay luminous!

Published by Matthew Neugebauer

MA in Theology, Anglican, Star Wars #Prequelist, Toronto FC Supporter

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