Inspiration for writers

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By 2017-04-08

with R.S. Karunaratne

Today, it is somewhat easy to become a journalist or writer. There are many newspapers, magazines and websites. You can follow a journalism course or join a newspaper as a cub reporter. Unlike in other jobs most editors are not interested in your academic qualifications. They are looking for people who can write. However, they will not teach you how to write. Writing a copy or story is your job. If you cannot write, never step into a newspaper office.

As an eight-year-old boy I used to write some silly notes on pages torn out of exercise books and leave them on the road. From a hiding place, I used to watch whether anyone would read what I had written. I did not see anyone reading them, but I wanted people to read what I wrote.

I remember reading Jenna Glatzer's inspiring article which described how she became a journalist and writer. She contributed so many articles to newspapers. In a few days they were returned with rejection slips. At one time her drawer was full of rejection slips. While studying for SSC (Senior School Certificate), I applied for the post of trainee journalist at the Independent Newspapers (Dawasa Group). In a few days I received a letter from the editor which said, "We have no time to train young people."

Long struggle

Coming back to Glatzer I remember her telling how she got her first break as a writer. After a long struggle she managed to get some of her writings published in lesser known magazines and newspapers. She also wrote a few small books on different subjects. Actually, they were meant for children.With a view to becoming a full-time journalist she sent her resume to some of the newspaper editors, but she didn't get even an acknowledgement.

I too, had a similar experience in the 1960s and 70s. By that time I had written some children's stories and other small features.

Fortunately, they had been published in lesser known magazines and newspapers. One day I received a cheque for Rs 25 from the Ceylon Daily News. I considered it a treasure. Although I continued to write regularly and sent my CV to editors, I did not receive any response.

One day Glatzer received an unassuming email asking her whether she was interested in writing the biography of Celine Dion. As she was a celebrity, Glatzer did not know what to do. Later she found out that the editor had selected her for the job because of her 'warmth' in writing. Once she wrote an article about a man who rowed a boat around Long Island every year to raise money for breast cancer research.

After contributing many articles to newspapers I received a letter from Vijitha Yapa, founder Editor of The Island asking me to come for an interview. I was excited to be interviewed by an editor.

"Do you like to work as a sub editor?" He asked looking at me sternly.

first step

I said, 'Yes' and resigned from my dreary government job. That was the first step I took in the world of journalism. He was a very strict editor who taught me the rudiments of journalism.

Let me come back to Glatzer again. She was excited to meet Celine Dion in Las Vegas. Some of her friends tried to dissuade her from meeting Celine Dion. They told her that celebrities would treat her like dirt. When she boarded the plane Glatzer cried. She wondered why she decided to do it. When she met Celine all her inhibitions disappeared. Celine was a friendly person who treated Glatzer like a close friend.

Thereafter, Glatzer met Celine for several months. She also made it a point to meet some of her fans. When fans came to know that Glatzer was writing Celine's biography,they also gave her a lot of information about the celebrity. One day Celine told her that she never wanted to talk to a journalist because she didn't trust them, but Celine changed her attitude when she met Glatzer.

Source of inspiration

All writers need some inspiration from time to time. If there is no inspiration they cannot do their job properly. However, most of us do not know the source of our inspiration. If you wish to be a journalist, you will have to read about great journalists and editors and how they became prominent in society.

I was really fascinated by the life story of Bob Woodward, a young journalist who was smart and eager for hard work. He would go on an assignment without hesitation. No matter where he went or who he met, he got people to talk. When he was sent to police headquarters, he made friends.

Unknown to most senior journalists Woodward came from the heartland of America. He was a compulsive journalist who was wildly ambitious. When he tried to join the Washington Post, the editor told him, "This is a fast league, a big-time paper. We have no time to teach you." However, Woodward kept pushing and demanded a position in a newspaper. When the editor realized that he could no longer put him off, he was given a three-week trial. His first story was a routine news item which announced the deadline for applying for local elections.

After one year's hard work Woodward was appointed as a journalist at the Washington Post. His editors were pleased with him.

He proved himself to be the embodiment of a new kind of reporter. One day, Bradlee, the Managing Editor, lunching with some of the new reporters asked, "Which one of you is Woodward?" "I am," said Woodward.

"You are all over the paper, that's good. Keep it up!" Woodward felt that he had been anointed as a journalist.

Only dedicated people such as Woodward will last long in journalism.

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