From the River to the Page
by Laura Paskus
Hey there, young writers. I’m just stopping by to contradict what most smart and caring adults will say about your career choices.
My advice? Follow your heart. And if your heart takes you along rivers and canyons (or even into meeting rooms full of angry-faced men pointing fingers at one another) and then tells you “write this down, share this, ring the bell, dammit,” then you need to be an environmental journalist.
Despite what anyone might tell you—that the publishing and newspaper industries are dead or dying or that writing is a ridiculous way to make a living—I’m here to extend a personal invitation to young writers. Keep writing. No matter what your parents, counselors, mentors, or other writers might tell you, keep writing. And if the publishing and newspaper industries are dead, that just means you can recreate them.
Let’s face it: The world doesn’t need another computer programmer. There are plenty of people vying to become attorneys, public relations experts, lobbyists, and politicians. What the world needs now is young people sharing stories of the places they love.
There is no shortage of accessible and amazing tools for storytelling—from the camera on your cell phone to websites like Storify. But my favorite tools are the simplest: A notebook and pen.
Notebooks dominate my personal landscape, from the bedside table to the car cupholder. Within the notebook in my purse, I log story ideas, snippets of conversations, meeting notes, and to-do lists. Notebooks are stacked on my desk and another is tucked inside my audio bag. Each major story or project has its notebook, full of facts, ideas, and half-formed paragraphs that help me type up a rough draft later. Then there is the notebook with daily bird and weather observations. I also have notebooks tucked into my backpack, daypack, and camera bag.
I know. It’s overkill. But those notebooks—and the notes within them—have their place. Sometimes the notes are crucial to a news story on deadline. Other times they show up in an essay years later.
I realize it’s an old fashioned notion, but I advocate for taking pen in hand and engaging in the habit of moving ink across paper. For me, the intimacy of that action solidifies experiences as real, rather than fleeting. And as a writer who focuses on the environment, that’s the impression I want to leave with readers: This world around us isn’t virtual. Ecosystems can’t be rebooted with the press of a button. Both beauty and controversy deserve more than a status update or 140 characters. This world all around us is meant to be touched, tasted, grieved over, explored, explained, and celebrated.
No matter how you decide to tell your stories, fulfill the destiny of the experiences you record. Without fear or self-consciousness, tell the story. And ignore anyone who tells you not to write. In the face of doubt or criticism, just get your facts straight, hone in on the most interesting details, write, rewrite, and keep writing.
If you don’t write these stories—about changes in the landscapes or how a river channel carries its waters or what birds sing out within your forests—they might be lost. So, I’m here to tell you: Now, more than ever, it’s time to write like a person possessed by love and wonder for the wild world.
Laura Paskus is an independent writer, editor, and radio producer. You can read or listen to some of her work at https://southwestreporter.com/. She is also president of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which offers frequent trainings and welcomes student members: www.nmspj.org.