In Step with Jamie Lynn

Inspiration 101

By: Jamie Lynn Ryan

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a small group of high school students with an interest in writing during a one-week digital journalism camp held at Hofstra University. Not quite sure what to expect, I brought samples of our newspaper and magazine, along with a brief bio of myself, my career trajectory thus far, and a handful of anecdotes to share with the group. As it turned out, all that information filled up precisely ten minutes of what was to be a nearly hourlong presentation.

Fortunately, there were several curious students among the crowd, and their questions kept the dialogue going for quite some time afterward. Most often, the queries centered on this very column, how long I had been writing it {first column published: July 27th, 2005}, how many I had accumulated to this point {roughly 675, give or take, as the number seems to fluctuate each time I dive into the archives – head scratching, I know}, and how I am able to come up with original topics each week.

That was a tough one to pinpoint. Mostly, I draw from my own personal experiences for the initial inspiration – observations of my surroundings, a quote I am particularly fond of, a bit of current events that seems worthy of mention. Clearly, there is no particular format; merely a free flow of thoughts that somehow manifests itself into words on a page, with a message that readers can (hopefully) relate to in their own unique ways.

Some followup questions included my favorite topics through the years {my Q&A with Don Mattingly immediately came to mind}, as well as the most difficult to write {the many memoriam-type pieces I have put together following the passings of several family members and close friends, at once heartfelt and healing}. Perhaps my favorite question though, was the one from the quiet young man in the corner who thoughtfully raised his hand to ask, “Do you ever start writing a piece and then decide you just don’t like it midway through?”

Yes. Absolutely. 100% YES. The fact is, no matter how much of a passion I or anyone else might have for writing, it’s nearly impossible to have each and every article turn out to be a winner. There are those topics you are initially inspired by that seem to trail off halfway down the page, leaving you with a bit of a blank slate to fill. There are those you perhaps weren’t that passionate about to begin with, yet felt a sort of obligation to take a stab at. In these cases, as I explained to the class, it’s often best to scrap the entire concept and go back to the drawing board. After all, if the words aren’t holding your own attention, how can you expect readers to remain engaged?

As with most things, recognizing a flaw and attempting to correct it is an integral part of the process. This is how we learn, and ultimately grow, whether age 15 or 35. There is no limit to our capacity for improvement. Practice may not always lead to perfection, but it can surely bring you closer to a finished product you can be proud of.

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  1. Leslie Blank says:

    This is not a comment about this column, but knowing you love the Yankees I want to pass on something I just learned. Way back when, a man named Frank Farrell bought the Baltimore Highlanders, brought them to NY and they became the Yankees. Did you know that Frank Farrell had a summer home at 66 Ocean Ave in Bay Shore? Amazingly it is still there.

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