This year, I spent my Valentine’s Day with journalism, and I know what you are thinking as you read this. You’re thinking that I’m either a loser who doesn’t know it, or that I’m trying to seem as if I am, maybe in hopes of equating myself to someone like Emily Dickinson, who had a stronger, more passionate connection with words than she did people. Maybe you are thinking that by writing this, I will just add to the sea of ranting about the lover’s holiday that already exists on the internet and social media, but this is no rant. It’s just the truth. On February 14, I was at the Alabama Scholastic Press Association State Convention in Tuscaloosa, where I led a session about feature writing with two of my classmates.
When we were asked by one of our professors to lead a session a few months ago, we didn’t think twice before saying yes. If we had to speak about something we didn’t enjoy or know much about, it would be different, but it is easy to stand up in front of a group of young people and talk about something you love. I guess this level of comfort we had with the subject is to blame for the fact that we didn’t complete our presentation plan until a few days before the conference. We were still making changes at the last minute, and it was in those final moments, as the students were finding seats in our session room, that we realized we probably should have been better prepared. We worried that we had made our presentation too elementary, and that the points we had planned to make and the tips we would share would be remedial. What would these high schoolers learn from us that they didn’t already know? We were going to spoon-feed them the basics of writing a pretty feature article, and we realized that they were probably there with the hope of learning so much more.
As my self-doubt began creeping into a room full of writer wannabes who were staring up at us, there was no turning back. Our presentation started with a few awkward pauses, but once we moved through those we were on a roll. The conference theme was ‘Spread the Love,’ and I say with confidence that we did just that. When you’re talking about your love of the written word, well, the words just seem to flow. The students probably already knew that feature writing means longer pieces, colorful quotes, and deep descriptions. They probably knew that feature writing means becoming far more attached to your subject than any other form of journalism requires or allows. Maybe everything we said was just a recap for them, but it was good for me to be reminded, too. Yes, we shared with them the basics, but I realize now that sometimes it’s important to go back to the basics. It reminds you of why you love something so much in the first place.
When our presentation was complete, we opened the floor for questions, and we were surprised at how many we received. We were even more surprised when a student stayed around to get our email addresses and to ask us for advice. What advice could I give her? I definitely don’t have it all figured out. Then she said something I never expected to hear. “I want to be you guys one day,” she said.
Something we said during the presentation made her want to be like us, but what have I done in my very short, practically nonexistent career as a writer to inspire that? Our main advice to this bright 10th grader was to stick with it, be persistent, and never give up. Yet, part of me felt like we should have told her that this love affair with journalism won’t always be rosy. There will be times when you give it your all and it doesn’t give you anything in return. It will make you doubt yourself, make you question why you choose to pick up the pen and keep writing. As I said before, I definitely don’t have it all figured out. However, I have already experienced the journalism roller coaster ride, and if I take my own advice and stick with it, I know I will experience the ups and downs again and again.
That’s just it, though. I want to be persistent through those low points because experiencing the high points makes it all worth it in the end. I hope that student, who sent an email only moments ago to thank us for inspiring her, finds this post and understands that her enthusiasm and excitement for the craft actually inspired me. Journalism might break my heart a few times along the way, but it will always be my valentine.