25 Aug Journalism 101: What New Writers Can Learn From Sadia B.
So, I lost my phone the other day. (So long Blackberry! Hello i-phone!)
I know I lost my phone near the Urban Outfitters in Montclair, New Jersey. (I was on my way to buy another headband. It’s a long story. Right Lil Miss Brown?)
Anyway. So I lost my phone somewhere near Urban Outfitters. I came home and Googled the store to get the number.
I ended up on a site called Yelp, a pseudo social networking site where users post reviews on restaurants, clothing stores and anything and everything else in their area.
And that’s how I discovered Sadia B.
Sadia wrote a review of Urban Outfitters. And after I scribbled the number to the store, I scanned Sadia’s review.
Out of habit, I read people’s words. Not just their official words in glossy magazines and newsprint. I like to read unedited words from people who probably think no one is really reading—or closely paying attention to how they string their sentences together.
Sometimes I scan Amazon.com for good writing in the book reviews. I love reading letters to the editor. They are rarely edited. So if it’s done well, I know its the work of a gifted writer.
I love reading comments on other blogs. While 95% of the commenters on the gossip blogs I read make me mourn the state of Blacks in America, there are a few shining stars. Cracks me up when a commenter makes a tight, succinct point that’s better written than the original post.
So anyway. Back to Sadia B.
Here’s what she wrote about Urban Outfitters.
As someone who values construction, quality, and craftsmanship, I am necessarily irritated by places like Urban Outfitters (IKEA, H&M, Forever 21). And as someone who hasn’t yet made her first million, I necessarily slip inside places like Urban Outfitters (IKEA, H&M, Forever 21).
Jersey’s only outpost of the copyright infringing, sweatshop fueling, vertigo-inducing store is just like the others, only it’s staffed by blase hipsters with Jersey accents (a little oxymoronic, if you ask me) and populated by Range Rover pushing parents who are genuinely as excited about the merchandise as their teenaged daughters are.
I may look askance at the flimsy slips being marketed as dresses, the pilly sweaters, and the criminally constructed hats, but where else in town could I stock up on Dr. Dre pint glasses, Super Mario Brothers sound effects keychains, and Freud action figures (now that Copabananas has closed)?
Let’s go back to the lede. It’s snappy, kicky and funny. I instantly get what kind of chick she is. In the entire review, her writing is tight. She gives me lots of detail about the store–the merchandise, the clientele, the layout, the history of the store. All of it is wound tight and concise in less than 150 words.
This is notable. It is very difficult to write tight. Easier to give me 1000 words on every nook and cranny of the store than to get your point across in 144 words.
Sadia B. is nice with hers.
Now, I don’t know Sadia B. from a hole in the wall. A quick Google search gave me some basics. She’s done a bit of modeling. She’s of West African and Filipino decent and is in her mid-20s. She’s a snazzy dresser and gives good face on her model profile.
I’ve written down Sadia B.’s name and the contact info I’ve been able to Google and placed it in my Future Writers file.
Now for all I know, she could be a best selling novelist who has been writing all her life.
But if she’s new to the craft and likes to write, I’d find an assignment for her.
The point: Don’t wait for an assignment if you’re just starting out. Give yourself an assignment.
Join Yelp, set up a profile. Review every restaurant and clothing store you patronize. Don’t just throw something together. Write it well. Act like someone assigned it to you and you’re getting paid for it.
Review books you’ve read on Amazon. Write short, snappy reviews.
Of course, you should be blogging too. But it’s hard to bring traffic in at first. (Hard to bring in traffic, period.)
So go to the traffic. Comment on blogs. But don’t just toss off your opinion. Give some thought to what you want to say. Back it up with facts. Don’t go too hard. But fit the tone of your blog.
(It should come as no surprise that I approached five of my guest bloggers based on the strength of their comments on my own blog.)
When a new writer introduces themselves to me, one of the first things I do is Google their name. I usually see college clips, (always a good thing), perhaps a random mention here and there. If I see healthy amount of good writing in other avenues–reviews, comments–I take notice.
Lesson of the day: You can create your own portfolio with a set of bootleg clips thanks to the Internets.
You can get “published” every single day.
So get to it!
(Oh, and if anyone knows Sadia B. find out if she’s trying to get on in the writing game. I’ve got a guest blog assignement for her…)
Do you give yourself your own assignments? What pops up if an editor Googles you? Do you have a decent online profile? Even though it’s not an official portfolio, it helps. And to my fellow writers and editors, would you give a small assignment to a new writer based on the strength of various reviews you read? I know I would.
As always, I’d love to hear from you!