Something we stress to students
I’m a closet perfectionist. Although segments of my life can be cluttered, there are aspects where I hone my efforts to a razor’s edge. My studies are typically one of them.
Even though I try to play off how seriously I take college and even work, there always is this sort of inner fire that sparks my drive to put my heart and soul into things. Be it stories, speeches, publications, really anything—if I don’t reign myself in, I’ll stress and spend every waking second tweaking, doubting and making a general mess of my disposition, all for the quest of making something perfect.
Certain students here at our journalism school do the same things during their assignments. Come to think of it, I did go through some spouts of obsessiveness with my assignments, flinching and grimacing when I lost two points for something like comma use! Oh God oh God!
So I know the feeling of wanting to be great at this training. I remember wanting to write about subjects that hadn’t been covered before, or coming up with new angles. Honestly, these instructors have seen hundreds and thousands of stories, all about the same core group of subjects, finding a “new” subject isn’t the focus—writing well is the goal. All of the extra stress at being different and unique is unwarranted.
If the students spend too much time obsessing about perfecting every aspect of a story oftentimes they’ll miss the basic stuff and even fail assignments. So the instructors constantly have to get them to back off, take their time, and not try to be different, just competent. Not that the military doesn’t want creative writers, but this training is a process of teaching the basics, there is plenty of time to grow and develop as a writer afterwards.
My speech, which I’ll give regularly, once I am certified to teach, will go something like this:
Students. The time as come for you to begin the segment of your training where you’ll produce a series of feature stories. This exercise will draw from everything you have learned thus far. It will be challenging, but rewarding.
Many of you will spend hours and hours on single assignments, fretting and stressing out about how to make a singularly unique story.
Right now you are at the beginning of your careers. Think of it as…well, an empty meadow, surrounded by trees, representing the works of other writers and journalists before you.
You want to add as many trees as you can to your meadow, so you can have a strong…forest? To shade…your legacy?
At this point I’ll put on a confused look to get a few laughs that Staff Sgt. Salmons is off his rocker again. But, to continue:
Now, to plant a forest, you need trees, lots of trees. Think of the trees each as a story you’ve written. Most trees on the grounds surrounding the meadow are tall and strong, full of literary tension and effect. And you want to get to that point where your plot of land is full of those proud trees (representing stories…stay with me).
Some students will freak and stress over writing these upcoming features way too much, and will be like the person who plants a single tree and sits next to it, watering it, fretting over it, and spending every moment testing the soil and ensuring proper growth.
While some of this care is necessary to make a good story, if the person spends the whole day on one tree, he or she is hardly on the way to a full forest.
No, instead, a young journalist must know to focus on correctly planting many trees. Some may die—maybe from wind, or a tree disease…whatever; but as that journalist continues to plant and learn, without growing too attached to any one tree, eventually the person’s body of work will grow into the forest he or she wants.
Alright, story time over.
And thus, I will have worked a squishy, lovey dovey story about trees into my canon. Horray for hippies.