How do I find time to write longer stories?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

Dear Coach,

I cover the medical and health beat. I would love to work on longer stories and special projects. But since I write an average of four stories a week, there’s just no time! How can I do great stories when routine ones swallow all my time? — Swallowed Whole

Dear Swallowed,

This is the classic reporter’s lament: You’re so busy writing that there’s no time to write.

My advice: Learn how to collect string. That is, identify a larger story (say, alternative-medicine techniques used in area hospitals). Talk to your editor about it. (This is key. It would be silly for you to spend time working on something your editor has no interest in.) Then set aside 20 minutes a day. During these windows of time, collect string on your idea: an interview here, a few phone calls there, some e-mails here, a magazine article read in your last few minutes at work. Next time you’re at the hospital for a daily interview, find 40 minutes to do an interview on your larger topic. Each time you collect a piece of string, write it up as a scene or a block of manageable information to keep in a running file in your computer. That way, the information stays fresh. After several weeks of collecting, you’ll have enough to build your story. You then can tell your editor: “I’ve done the reporting on this story; I need a few days to pull it all together.” These words are far less daunting to an editor than, “I’d like to do this huge project on Ÿ.” And the time-management skills you’ll learn will serve you well in all stories, no matter how long.

Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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