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

Happy Blogathon haiku day!

A poetic day/unlocks possibilities/in beautiful words! Here goes:Wild iris


Parched summer breeze sucks

the laundry dry on the line.

I save fifty cents.


Heat forecast: Relief

can’t reach me when the cat stands

In front of the fan.


Brown beer bottles lie

dry of all their inner joy

along the highway.


Egg on the sidewalk,
Butter melts and now you sit
Staring at the sun.


Coffee’s down the hatch,
Deadline’s on the calendar.
More haiku must wait.

Helping j-friends to freelance

Aaron Kushner, the investor who rocked journalism in 2012 by buying the Orange County Register and expanding it while the industry was contracting, rocked itOld newspaper again this year by instituting bloodbaths that have lopped off more than one-third of the newsroom staff. Longtime bylines and credit lines are going or gone.

I dodged a layoff at the San Francisco Chronicle by pre-empting it: I paid off my bills, let my editor friends elsewhere know that I was available for assignments, picked a date and quit to freelance. I had certain things in my favor: I had already freelanced on the side nationally for 20 years, had hired and edited freelancers, and had run a business.

The newly freed reporters at the Register may not have those advantages. Reporters and editors tend to think locally – where the freelance money isn’t. They usually aren’t familiar with contracts or with entrepreneurship, other than what they’ve covered. They have a lot to learn if they choose freelancing as their next career.

A theory floats around that laid-off reporters and editors will crowd the freelance market, snapping up all the good gigs. Nothing could be further from More

Finding your voice

Every writer needs a voice, and most say they have one, then launch into examples of tone. Tone isn’t voice, and voice isn’t tone. Voice is such an esoteric concept, in fact, that many writing coaches skip over it entirely. Today we’re going to talk about voice, though, and how to find yours.

Voice unites reader and writer

Voice unites reader and writer

First, let’s define it by what it isn’t: tone. Tone is mood – upbeat, angry, confused, optimistic, the range of emotion. It changes with the piece. You wouldn’t write, for instance, about new cancer treatments in the same tone as you’d write about 3-D ink tattoos. You make a conscious – and conscientious – decision about the mood you want to impart to the reader. It reflects what you are: a careful writer.

Voice, on the other hand, is more akin to personality. It reflects who you are.

Scary? Yes, a little. You expose yourself with everything you write. The personality that comes through – your voice – has developed over a lifetime. Just like your real-life personality, your voice is composed of a million nuances More

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May 2022