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Holiday Gift Guide for Writers

If you're still looking for gift ideas for writers, co-workers and friends on your list -- or for that pesky office Secret Santa gift -- I've got you covered.

Pardon the self-promotional gift idea.
Click to order your copy!

And for after the gifting is done, my thoughts on sending hand-written thank-you notes.

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Writing reports as time-honored year-end activity as sipping egg nog lattes. Here's a strategy we use to make writing those missives easier and faster: The Position-Rationale-Proof Strategy©.

The Position-Rationale-Proof Strategy from Margot Lester of The Word Factory

The PRP helps us think through our ideas in the context of what we want to say and what our audience might need/want to hear.

How to Write a Better Year-End Report

Using the PRP is easy. I often sketch the table out on a whiteboard or piece of paper and complete the organizer by hand. This slows down my brain just enough to think a little more carefully about what I want to include.

After completing the top portion, I work across from the POSITION to the rationale. For each reason "why", I add examples or evidence to strengthen each point, often referring to the GOALS to make sure I'm serving the stated purpose.

Download step-by-step instructions.

At this point, you could hand the organizer off to someone for review or comment. This often helps us hone the details and verify that our logic makes sense.

To draft, just work across the organizer from rationale to proof, repeating until you've worked through all the points. Boom! A fast draft ready for revision.

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Book icon on Margot Lester's writing coach page

I'm superstitious and I'm always seeing "signs". I have to wear the same sweatshirt when Carolina plays basketball until we lose and then I switch. When I see a red-tailed hawk, I think it signals good luck. And when two good pieces about storytelling and a promo for STORIES: The AIDS Monument landed my lap on the same day, I feel like the universe is trying to tell me something.

Story gets a lot of lip service in the content marketing universe, but it's as old as the cave drawings. That's how important narrative is to us at people on an almost molecular level.

Read these terrific treatises on storytelling and start thinking about how you can incorporate some of these ideas and tactics into your work.

  1. Using storytelling to combat climate change from PRI's The World. Tips on how to deploy narrative to make something as critical, controversial and complicated as the climate emergency meaningful.
  2. The Wall Street Journal's Sue Shellenbarger investigates the positive impact of family stories on our psychological development.
  3. Jane Lynch discussing the importance of memorializing those lost to AIDS/HIV via STORIES: The AIDS Monument project.

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I'm still floating a bit on the energy from last week's National High School Journalism Convention in DC. Over the course of two days I spoke to more than 400 scholastic journalists -- reporters, editors, columnists, yearbook staffers, radio show producers -- and a few of their advisors. It was invigorating and reassuring to sit down with so many young people eager to use words and pictures to tell better stories, right wrongs and -- as hokey as it sounds -- make the world a better place. I was both heartened and impressed by their interest in and passion for news and analysis.

(That's me, bottom left)

Working with young people is one of the best things about my job. If you're not already involved with local schools, youth groups or other organizations catering to teenagers (especially those considering journalism), I invite you to re-consider. Working with these kids, even just for a few minutes during a break at a conference, gives them access to professionals and real-world perspectives. And it creates an opportunity for us to develop and nurture the next group of people we'll be hiring or relying on for our news.

Margot Lester speaking at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington, DC, with journalist AK Clemmons in the background. November 2019.
During my session on better interviewing with my friend and journalist Anna Katherine looking over my shoulder

Whether it's a structured thing like speaking at NHSJC or working with your local school paper, or a more casual thing like having coffee with an aspiring writer, getting involved with the next generation is good for all of us.

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Extending the ladder

to high school journalists

It meant a lot to me as a high school journalist to meet and learn from pros already in the field. Luckily, one of my Dad's best friends and poker buddies was the editor of the local paper, Jim Shumaker (on whom the Shoe cartoon was based). That ensured I had opportunities and mentoring as I found my way and learned the ropes.

NHSJC 2019 logo

That's why I present at the National High School Journalism Convention. It's a terrific opportunity to return the favor done to me by those reporters, columnists and editors who gave me a hand when I was a scholastic journalist.

I'm giving five workshops this year:

  • Be a Better Interviewer: Getting sources talking
  • Revisiting Revision: 10 strategies
  • Source Diversity: How to get it
  • Identifying Credible Information Sources
  • Opinion & Editorial Writing: Capture the power of your ideas

Download slides with tips for high school journalists

These are largely the same decks I use when coaching and training professionals -- only some of the examples are different to improve relevance. Feel free to share with the writers (young and older) in your sphere.

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