Monday, April 21, 2008

Einstein for writers: The research is the horse, the story is the cart

We know the horse must come before the cart. But when it comes to journalism, what is the cart and what is the horse?

Does the lead get typed in first, and then all that follows supports that lead? I say not for me, it doesn't. I've talked about this in my Story Process blog.

Even when I'm on assignment to cover a new Whole Foods store in Pasadena, which you might think is pretty cut and dried, my lead isn't set in stone. Only after I've done the research, in this instance, do I discover that it's two stories, the largest of its kind and that people will ride an escalator up with their cart on a cartilator beside them. The lead becomes not that it's new, but the way it's unique. I've managed to stay within my editor's parameters for the assignment, which was to cover the opening of the new Whole Foods store in Pasadena. But, like Sinatra, I did it ... My Way.

You never know what will bubble up. Look at a detective at a crime scene. If he goes in with a pre-set lead, and endeavors to stick to it, to prove what he has been told or supposes to be true, he will ignore every clue that tells him about anything bigger or different. Certitude squashes curiosity.

Albert Einstein said this: "A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."

I say as writers, we need to do the same thing.

Einstein is also credited with these gems that apply well to the art and science of writing:

"Here areI have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. "

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

"Never lose a holy curiosity."

"The important thing is not to stop questioning."


(For more Einstein quotes, check out BrainyQuote here:

I appreciate fellow writer Mike Strong's input on a recent blog of mine where I talked about my writing process. (See the post and his note here:

"I was shocked to see your writing style, not appalled, just shocked because it had never occurred to me to do it that way! I'm like your friend: lead first. However, I'm not committed to that lead. If I begin writing and I realize that the lead doesn't support my assertions in a story or what I'm writing clearly shows me that I've got the lead wrong, it's time to redo. My lead is much like your byline: it's a flag to plant...but your friend needs to listen her story and not be committed to her least that's how I handle it. You're method is appealing in cases where I have sooooo many notes and I can't see the forest for the trees. Came across your blog on MediaBistro...interesting stuff!"

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