Today I gave birth to a 20-kilogram feature story. That’s what it felt like anyway. Every word seemed to be dragged out of me, kicking and screaming. When it was done, the relief was so palpable that I felt lighter and brighter, giddy with joy.
Like most features, it began well. There were no particular signs that this one would turn toxic.As with pregnancy, there was joy and excitement. I was genuinely looking forward to writing it, as it was an idea I’d pitched myself and I had several leads ready to go.
It was about the halfway point that things changed. I got led astray by a new contact, lost my direction and ended up with a couple of useless quotes and a case study I hadn’t counted on. At which point, I put my hands over my eyes and prayed the whole mess would go away.
It didn’t, of course. The deadline passed, I was still looking for an interview to save it, hoping for a miracle. Nothing happened. So I turned to a trusted source, one who knew what I needed, one who would give me some solid foundations on which to balance a structure that was looking decidedly wobbly.
As I sat down to write it today, I felt sick. I’d left it until the last possible moment, waiting for The Muse (who, as we’ve discussed before, is beholden to no woman and clearly had a blow-dry appointment this morning). Through sheer persistence, I found an opening, a way in to the story, and from that it flowed. I managed to construct a frame that allowed me to wedge my material into the brief. And it worked.
I have no doubt that every journalist has stories like these, that grow into millstones around their necks. I also have no doubt that most of those stories would involve case studies, the finding of ‘real’ people to fit a niche in the story. One day, when I’m feeling stronger, we’ll talk about case studies a bit more.
But not tonight. Tonight I’m pouring a glass of wine (I know, on a Monday, outrageous!) and toasting the Muse (who is no doubt out dancing and not sitting at home waiting to hear ‘cheers’ from suckers like me) as I wet that story’s head.
And then I’m going to get started on the next one.