Cracking the ‘nut graf’

Nut grafs made one of my students cry. She couldn’t get the hang of them. I wasn’t connecting with explaining them.

Gimme the nut! (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

Aw, nuts! (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

On the way home, I threw the textbook explanations out the window. I decided to explain the long way and from the heart. This is what I wrote to her. She said it helped, and I saw that it did. It might help anyone who’s having trouble cracking nut grafs.

I thought about how a nut graph might be explained more clearly, and it’s this:

Writers approach articles from the inside out. They know what the story will cover, where it will end and how it will get there.

Readers approach stories from the outside in. They read in linear fashion from the first word to the last. After the lead, they bump into the nut graph, which gives them a road map to the rest of the story. The nut graph is like a synopsized version of what the writer already knows: where the story’s headed.

As writers, we try to see the story from a reader’s perspective. This is a big part of our craft. Without a clearly defined nut graph, the reader continues More

Rev up your verbs for power

Verbs drive powerful writing. Not adjectives, not adverbs, not description – verbs.Verbs 3

But not just any ol’ verbs. Banish “to be” and “to have” in all their forms. They’re sleepy and lifeless. That’s why, in grade school, they were called “helping” verbs; they don’t do stuff on their own.

Instead, choose verbs encompassing some type of action, even if it’s breathing. See the difference. Feel the power. Now practice it!

Here are a couple of practice sessions to try. They’re great to do when you’re procrastinating over writing. More

Too chicken to write?

Writing can be terrifying. It exposes you. It puts your intellect, education, personality, logic, even your family background – everything about you – on display.

Scary critter at shop outside Hill City, S.D., November 2013. (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

Big chicken at shop outside Hill City, S.D., November 2013. (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

No wonder so many people would rather sit in a locked outhouse full of spiders during an earthquake than write. Then along comes the boss, saying, “We need a report” or “Would you send an email?” What’s a chicken to do?

Yes, a writing chicken can simply suck it up and peck it out. But life is full of little tortures, and it doesn’t need another one. The idea is to take writing out of the list of them.

In 12 years of teaching journalism students, I’ve realized fear of writing grows from one source: lack of confidence. Writing performance improves substantially, even in just a couple of months, when the student taps into his or her inner writer, learning to trust instincts and believe in abilities.

That inner writer may have cold feet for several reasons:

  • The harsh criticism of a teacher
  • The feeling of having nothing meaningful to say
  • The suspicion of not being smart enough or good enough

See what I mean? All of these reek of battered self-confidence.

So how does a chicken writer begin to tackle More

What day is it?

November 2020
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