Friday, December 30, 2011

Learning To Write As A Reporter

Nothing buoys my spirit quite like the life stories of fellow small town reporters who went on to have successful careers as professional writers.

I was once a small town reporter. In fact I cut my teeth at a little 4,000 circulation paper before moving up to a 40,000 circulation paper. I still write a weekly humor column for a small town paper--just 10,000 circulation. I don't mind it though because unlike so many other papers, my current one still has their own printing press in the back churning out the daily edition.

Some writer's stories are tragic, certainly. Not everyone who sets out to accomplish something achieves their goal in the end. That's just life. But it is life affirming to listen to their struggles, decades later, and see them sitting before you, alive and well and happy.

As a writer I have had my fair share of struggles already, and I'm just getting started. Three decades of work so far, and I say, "I'm just getting started." That sort of starry-eyed optimism is emblematic of most writers. We always feel we are just getting started; that we have learned so much, yet still have so much left to learn; so much left to give to our readers.

I read this story of Richard Graber, a once small town reporter who went on to have a successful career as a magazine writer and novelist. He didn't win a Pulitzer Prize, cover the JFK assassination or the Moon missions; and most of you have probably never heard of him. But he is an example of the successful life a writer can lead when he sticks with his dream, stays on the writer's path and follows it all the way to the end.

Growing up in Granite Falls, Minn., in the 1930s and 40s, Richard wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be a writer, but he was always drawn to the arts and literature. He was sensitive to nature, to his own emotions, and to the tumult of life around him. Lucky for him, his hometown librarians, Lois Palmer and Anna Feley, were early subscribers to The New Yorker magazine.

"I was a young teenager when I started reading The New Yorker," he says. "Or, well, at least going through and reading the cartoons. But that was back when they had real writers, James Thurber and E.B. White."

After a stint in the Navy, Richard enrolled at the University of Minnesota. He majored in architecture for a year and a half until a perceptive friend asked him what the hell he was doing in architecture. Richard knew his friend was right, so he took a career counseling test to figure out what to do with his particular mix of skills and personality. He ended up taking the test 14 times.



Click here to read more of Richard Graber's life, in an article by Becky Karush.

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