‘Your writing is the strongest when it arrives in your own voice’: Dallas Morning News editor on writing in 2021

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. 

Name: Tom Huang

Current job: Assistant managing editor for journalism initiatives at the Dallas Morning News

Watch previous Institute writing program: Writing through – Grieving together, alone

What are your writing resolutions for 2021? 

Huang: Well, okay, I’m not sure. I wish I could say I’ll write the first chapter of my Bildungsroman. But to be honest, most of my writing these days comes in emails, staff notes, memos, PowerPoint bullet points and grant pitches. My days are occupied less by artistry, and more by research and persuasion. That’s because part of my job is to build my newsroom’s community-funded journalism initiative. We’re seeking philanthropic funding to support our public service journalism. (You can probably tell I’ve written that previous sentence many times before.) That’s okay. I’m willing to put aside my personal writing for the time being in order to do whatever I can to help save local news. And, strangely enough, I’m finding that my storytelling skills come in handy for fundraising. Donors, like most of us, best understand the issues and arguments when they come in the form of powerful stories.

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

Huang: I think the hardest part of writing is listening to that voice inside your head and finding a way to get it down on the page (or on the screen). Write it the way you would think it or say it. Your writing is the strongest when it arrives in your own voice, not when it mimics someone else’s. One of my mentors, Mike Wilson, once told me that you should bring your voice to whatever you write, even if it’s something as short as an email or even a tweet. And so that’s my lesson of 2020. We are isolated and we are disconnected because of the pandemic. Whatever short bits of communication we share — let’s infuse them with our unique personalities. 

As for the new year, I hope for the day when I can travel overseas and learn how to write for myself again. The blissful disorientation of exploring unfamiliar spaces makes me want to tell stories. 

How did your writing change during the pandemic?

Huang: For the past 7 years, I did a lot of personal writing when I traveled back and forth between Dallas and Champaign, Ill. to take care of my parents in their decline. (I’d write short dispatches on Facebook and pull them together into longer essays.) Anyone who’s been on a similar caregiving journey knows about the beauty and ugliness and joy and sadness. Then, in January of this year, my mother died, and my father followed her three months later. This was in the early days of the pandemic. After I lost my dad, I pretty much stopped writing (except for the emails, memos, pitches, etc., that I had to write for work). 

I’m on a writing pause because I need the time to grieve, to take care of myself, to process all that has happened this past year. I’ve written stories (fact and fiction) all of my life, so at some point I expect my writing “faucet” to get turned back on. A small part of me worries that the spigot is busted. But I’m being patient, and I’m offering myself some grace. (And I’ve been able to write these last few sentences, so there’s hope, right?)


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