At some point in my life, I will have to find out if I am a writing personality or not. That may sound weird for somebody who has been earning her income by writing for twenty years now, but believe me, in writing I’m more of a bouncing type. Bouncing from story to story, from deadline to deadline. It pays the bills, but it might not make me write the stories I want to write.
This whole weekend, I have been thinking about the conference ‘Narrative Journalism’ that I attended, last Friday in Amsterdam. With Pullitzer Prize winners Jacqui Banaszynski and Mark Kramer, and some Dutch journalists who have also earned their credits in narrative journalism. What that is? In short: writing stories using the techniques of fiction, while respecting the rules of journalism.
I would love to get involved in narrative journalism. Turkey inspires me so much: the stories that are everywhere, the rich and turbulent (recent) history and present, the landscape and the cities that tickle all your senses. Writing a narrative journalism book about Turkey would be a dream come true. But to be honest: I can’t even get a proper idea for a book on paper. I’ve been trying for years now, and I’ve still got nothing to show. That would be okay if I knew that all the plans I put on paper and judged unfit were just part of the process to get somewhere, but I’m not sure that it is. I’m not sure if I’m heading in any direction. Like a swimmer in the ocean.
Of course, that has to do with the bouncing too. I need to produce, to keep the treadmill of freelance journalism going. I can’t just step out for a few months, unless somebody gives me a bag of money, and that problem will only be solved after I’ve written that first bestseller. But that’s in the end an excuse. Imagine if somebody actually gave me a bag of money, would the narrative journalism dream instantly turn into reality?
And that’s where we get to the real issue of narrative journalism. It’s an approach to the profession, meaning that it can come in all forms: in books and lengthy reportages in several episodes, but also in articles, even in short ones of 400 words. What you basically need to do, is go to the heart of the matter, be intimate. I have learned that much through working for magazines for years. I’ve had editors in chief who really pushed me to go further in interviews, to make people tell their real story, even (or of course: especially) about things that seem trivial. I have learned also to see what a story is really about, on a deeper level than you would think at first glance.
The problem for me is in the writing. I always write soberly. Whether it’s a moving personal story or a news article with mostly facts, I never make anything more dramatic than it is. Or, more precisely: I never use anything literary to make a story more compelling, more beautiful, more catchy – well, besides writing soberly, which is of course in itself also a technique. And I know why: I’m afraid to. Because to do that in a plausible way, it has to be real. You have to not only go to the heart of the matter, but you also have to get intimate. And being intimite is one step further than being able to let people tell their story, like I have done for 20 years now. You have to show yourself too. Not by using ‘I’ or making yourself explicit in the story, but by reporting with all your senses, emotions and perceptions. ‘Dare to care’, Banaszynski said, and: ‘Be emotional.’
I don’t do that. Even though I deeply want to. Not only in writing, but in every aspect of life. I want to give more space to the parts of me that are not sober, not kind of rough, not factual, not strong and independent, but soft, emotional and fragile. I have all that in me, but you only see it, I only show it, between the lines. Only if I dare to make it more visible, can I let go of the bouncing and be a writing personality.