Can writers ever be journalists?

Published: August 1, 2012
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You can't imagine how resourceful reporters are. Give them a topic and they will bring you facts, quotes, developments in half an hour.

The first lesson they gave me in my first fiction writing class at NYU was: find a wound, pluck it, pierce it, poke at it till it gushes out with so much blood you don’t know what to do with it. Now while you’re lying bleeding, drenched in your sordid sorrow and putrid pain, get a freaking pen from somewhere and write all that s*** down.

Okay, they only said, “write from pain” – I’m improvising for effect.

But when I apply the same theory to a feature story for The Express Tribune – before I can even get the name of my interviewee on paper and what his or her problem may be – I’ve already run out of word count. Because most of the page has been filled with a story of how I met the person, what they looked like, what I felt after seeing them, what I think about the situation. And then I have no choice but to sloppily and grudgingly fit in facts and ugh… their opinion and their problems!

I can’t get myself to unlearn writing long descriptions, my feelings and emotions. And because of it – with every passing day, I’m starting to think journalism and writing don’t coincide. Although its one basic skill – writing well – but it can’t be applied as well to both.

Because can a car mechanic really fix a jet?

Now I’m not saying that one is better than the other or requires more advanced thinking capabilities. It’s just that both require equally unique capabilities. And considering I lack one of them – I end up spending hours envying almost every reporter and editor around me.

Editors can pick up negative tones from text, they are so wonderfully in tune with what’s happening around the world at all times and they can streamline your work to perfection. And each time they do streamline my sloppy, comma-less paras and long sentences, I literally feel like someone has chopped off my leg. But in the end, the article looks so much better that I can’t help but be grateful. And when I try to be catty and funny in my own presumptuous way – they tone it down in a way that makes me sound like a sensitive human being.

And reporters, you can’t imagine how resourceful these people are. Give them a topic and they will bring you facts, quotes, developments in half an hour. They will spend hours haggling with people, sweating it out in the garmi and dhoop (heat and the sun) and then come back and write it all down.

And so I sit at my desk all day and sulk.

Sulk because I can’t do it as well as them.

Sulk some more and then write about my sulking.

Sulk because that’s all I know how to do.

Read more by Saba here.

Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid

A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at www.thecityalive.com and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.