‘Take a pause before saying yes’: 3 journalists on their 2021 writing resolutions

With the help of inspiring journalists, we learned about writing in many different ways over the last year — from sharing about personal loss to evoking emotions through detail; and finding your focus to turning your memories into a memoir. As we enter the new year, we reached out to our previous writing program instructors to hear about their 2021 writing resolutions. 

Names: Marla Broadfoot, Lane DeGregory, Deborah Netburn

Current roles: Broadfoot is a science writer with a PhD in genetics; DeGregory is an enterprise reporter at the Tampa Bay Times; Netburn is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times

Previous program: Writing through – Focusing in short bursts

What are your writing resolutions for 2021? 

Broadfoot: My writing resolution for 2021 is to set realistic goals for myself. I know that seems a bit meta, to set a goal about setting goals, but if I have learned anything in the last year it is that small concrete actions can make a bigger impact than lofty aspirations. For example, one of my goals is to start writing about myself, my experiences, my perspective — something I found therapeutic before writing became a job. I am going to start journaling, in a bright orange little notebook that a dear friend gave me that only has enough space for a few lines every day. The entries may be pure drivel, or they may inspire a longer essay, either way I will still be accomplishing my goal. 

DeGregory: My writing resolution for 2021 is to read more fiction so I can be inspired to try to incorporate more lyrical writing into my stories, even when they’re news-based. I’ve been writing so many more, shorter, newsier stories since the pandemic began, and consuming so much breaking, sad news, I want to get back into longer narratives and spend more time on the actual crafting of sentences instead of focusing on things like time constraints and space crunches and information that needs to be shared.

Netburn: I’ve got a major people-pleasing problem to work out in my life and on the job. When I get asked to write a quick newsy story, I almost always say yes because I see myself as a team player and I don’t want to let my editors down. Because I know how to write fast, I get asked to write them a lot. Yes, they’re easy, but they still require creative thinking and energy that could be directed into stories that align more with my personal goals. 

In 2021 I intend to take a pause before saying yes to quick hit assignments and think about if this is truly the most valuable use of my time. (That doesn’t mean always saying no, but it might mean saying no more often.)

What lesson about writing most influenced your writing during 2020? What do you hope to learn in 2021?

Broadfoot: One lesson about writing that influenced my writing in 2021 is that there is no magic to it. All the amazing writing I have read over the last year has been the result of hard work during hard times. So I have learned to make the most of the limited and seemingly limitless time I have (with two kids at home since March) by making sure I am planted at my desk during the late afternoon hours, when I know I am most productive.  

The lesson I hope to learn in 2021 is to not take myself so seriously. To inject some humor and delight into my writing whenever possible. And to keep reminding myself that this is the best profession in the world.

DeGregory: I think mostly during the pandemic I learned how reporting on deadline has changed, and how many platforms you now have to produce for. Instead of a print paper, we now write for the website and e-paper — and have to disseminate news through Twitter and Instagram and Facebook at the same time, often in real time. Covering the protests all summer in 100-degree heat and pouring rain, trying to keep up on the 7-mile marches and take notes and photos and interview people and tweet at the same time really tested my abilities of doing deadline journalism. In 2021, I hope to become more prolific at producing content for other platforms in real time.

Netburn: In the first months of the pandemic I wrote several stories that I hoped would articulate a collective experience of what it was like to live through this time: our loneliness, our uncertainty, our anxiety. However, as the year went on it became increasingly clear to me how radically differently so many of us experience the world.

Now when I write those types of stories, I try to be clear that what I’m describing is my own experience — one you might share or might not. I still hope readers will find something they relate with in it, but I no longer presume to know what others are feeling — unless they tell me. 

As for what I hope to learn in 2021: I don’t know yet! 

How did your writing change during the pandemic?

Broadfoot: I’ve always written about science, so shifting to covering the pandemic was not a big change for me. But how I have written about science has changed. I’ve tried to convey the uncertainty of science, the complexities of the scientific process and the reality that human behavior can shape pandemics just as much as viral biology. Some of those elements were there before, but they are more prominent now because they present an opportunity for the public to understand how science works and evolves.

DeGregory: During the pandemic, I shifted from thinking about and working on long-term narratives to writing mostly shorter, quicker stories. I tried to stay out in the world as much as possible, and wrote more stories than I have in the last several years, number-wise … but they were more immediate, less intimate, not as well thought out or written or meaningful. The entire way I have done journalism for 30 years has changed since March, and I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate the new not-so-normal.

Netburn: My writing got a lot more personal during the pandemic. Like everyone — or almost everyone — I went through a lot [last] year. I was scared, confused, angry, sad and doing my best to cope with rapid change and uncertainty. I let that all come out in the stories. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years and have only occasionally written in first person, but this past year I felt like I — all of us — are part of the story of this wild and crazy year. I’m not sure if that will continue beyond the pandemic, but it feels appropriate and like the most honest approach for now.


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Kent norton
Kent norton
2 years ago

Your personal story could save another one’s life. I would like to know personal stories about Journalist. You’re a lot like doctors they don’t tell them personal. I think that’s a fantastic idea too many people spouting off about their stories and their own personal stories really don’t amount to anything but a Taylor sound and fury told by an idiot Singapore nothing.. Besides that I’m a headshot photographer located in Sarasota Florida. I will give a free professional headshot and a journalist. Most of these or not great head shots they’re just snap shots.