Mollie Ziegler Hemingway paid a visit last week to the inaugural class of America’s Future Foundation’s Writing Fellowship. She is currently a senior writer at TheFederalist.com, and previously wrote in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Christianity Today.
She sat down with us at 6:30 p.m. clutching a mug of coffee, and prefaced her talk with an explanation: she basically hasn’t slept in the past year. Launching a start-up media website can have that effect.
Hemingway’s experience as a successful freelance journalist and her educational background in a subject other than journalism inspired a rapid fire round of questions from us AFF fellows sitting around the table.
When she said that she graduated with a degree in economics, rather than journalism, exhales filled the room with relief – especially from the economics major sitting next to me.
We asked her if her lack of college journalism experience helped or hurt her once she began working in the journalism industry. Her answer confirmed what I have heard around the Beltway over the past several months. Having an expertise in a topic other than journalism can give you an edge over other writers. In example, Hemingway said that her knowledge of economics helped her translate “market” into English as she wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
We then asked her how to build an expertise as a freelance journalist. To that, she gave three pieces of advice.
- Choose a topic that you are interested in learning about, and then cover that topic as well as couple others. As a freelancer, she mostly wrote about economics, religion and baseball – things she was interested in.
- Read widely.
- Test your arguments with friends, especially friends who don’t always agree with you. She encouraged us to invite different perspectives, and listen.
She learned a thing or two in her experience editing at the Federalist, and shared a few common issues that writers struggle with.
- Conversational Writing.
Hemingway said that a lot of writers get into a pattern of writing in a stiff or formal tone. Empathy is an approach that she uses during her writing process. She said that if she’s writing about divorce, she thinks of someone she knows who has experienced divorce. That tactic can help keep the writing tone appropriate. Adam O’Neal also offered advice on the subject: read your articles aloud. Hearing the words out loud can expose either a conversational or textbook rhythm that your readers will hear
- Opinion Writing.
The AFF Writing Fellowship theme this week is about opinion writing. Hemingway’s advice on the subject is to, “spend time not writing opinions. It teaches you to put forth better arguments.”
- If you’re wondering what the number one edit that Hemingway hands out to her writers, it’s “Show, don’t tell.”
An hour and three pages of notes later, Mollie Hemingway returned the coffee mug, and left with seven new, young fans.
Emily Hoosier works as the Program Officer at The National Journalism Center. She is from Chesapeake, VA, and went to university in the middle of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Emily is also a member of the America’s Future Foundation Writing Fellowship Program.