Would you believe I wrote this blog post back in December 2020 and forgot to publish it! Sorry about that. Here it is…
Have you ever thought about what is involved in writing what appears to be a very simple description of a person, place, or thing? Hopefully, the following real-life experience will shed some light on why it takes a professional writer a long time to write one single paragraph.
Recently, I was tasked to write about the “African American Civil War Museum” in Washington, D.C. To write about this museum, I either have to visit in person, interview staff who works there, or glean information from all available online sources. Depending on how much time I have to invest on any particular story, I may visit a place in person, or sometimes, I’ll conduct phone interviews that can span up to 45 minutes in length. Most often, I end up doing independent research.
To start off, I began my research with the website itself. The website notes that the museum is located at 1025 Vermont Avenue, which is “directly across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial, located at 1th and U Streets, NW Washington DC” as per its website.
The website goes on to explain that the museum is planning to move to Grimke School, in what appears to be a press release dated October 16, 2018. Keep in mind I’m seeing this information for the first time on December 21, 2020.
(BTW – I realize I’m publishing this post in mid-July 2021, a full seven months after I experienced these difficulties. The problem may have been fixed, but that does not take away from the amount of work a freelance writer must put in to write ONE simple description.)
Look at the photo below.
If you go to the bottom of the page, you’ll see that there are more words to the effect that there are plans to move in the fall of 2020. This is now December 21, 2020. Fall has come and gone. It is almost the New Year.
So where exactly is this museum located and what is its relationship to Grimke School, exactly? I’m not understanding. I went to do more research and learned that the museum is located inside the gym, which is a separate building that is part of Grimke School. How come the official museum didn’t mention that fact?
Look at the photo below.
I also learned that a newspaper reported in October 2019 a “groundbreaking” of the museum’s “future home” taking place at Grimke School. Are you familiar with groundbreakings in construction projects? Typically, groundbreakings occur on undeveloped land where there is dirt and possibly a concrete foundation, but not much normal. It is not customary to host a groundbreaking or even write about it at a building that is completely built and freestanding.
This description of groundbreaking is confusing, technically inaccurate, and causes confusion to people like me who have not visited the museum and would really like to understand the basics: where it is located and its relationship to the Grimke School.
Was the newspaper incorrect with its voluntary word choice to use “groundbreaking” to describe what would probably have been better described as the beginning phase or initial phase or renaissance of the museum? In my opinion, yes. After doing freelance writing for many years, I have learned that newspapers often make egregious mistakes in language choice, spelling, grammar, and basic descriptions. It happens, and I deal with it by continuing to do my research and dig until I get correct information.
I kept reading and happened to discover another critical element that was missing from the museum’s main website: the fact that it is located in the historic U Street district, which should be written in its proper form as the Greater U Street Historic District.
See the photo below.
Thank God, I actually already knew about U Street and its very important and culturally relevant historic district because I lived in D.C. for many years and still live within the metropolitan area. Because I already knew that fact, I was able to tie in my real-life knowledge with someone else’s description to build up a beautiful, well-rounded, and completely accurate description of the African American Civil War Museum.
The question remains is: Am I being overly critical of the museum itself or the newspaper or any other entity that did not provide a comprehensive definition or description of the museum? My point here is not to lay blame or point fingers. Really, it is to bring public awareness to what freelance writers HAVE to do as part of our jobs.
Freelance writers are tasked to write an editorial about something. They have to complete a story and use a maximum length of words. For me, that number is usually 1,000 words. Freelance writers are NEVER PAID to do the hundreds of hours of extra work including Internet research, phone calls, fact-checking, or following up with people to ascertain facts.
We are expected to be professionals and do our job without complaining to the best of our ability. I am beyond proud of myself for exerting the incredible amount of energy and effort into each one of my stories to make them as exact with precise details as I possibly can. I do not cut corners and simply copy and paste as I am often encouraged to do by well-intentioned outsiders who have no clue what I do.
I do not do that. I refuse to merely copy and paste what others happen to publish on websites. Just because it is written one way, that doesn’t make it accurate or correct. It just means it was published as is.
I sincerely hope this real-life example of what I go through for ONE STORY gives you a small clue into the hours and hours and hours of work I put into my writing. I create only quality writing. When you commission me to do writing for you, you are truly hiring a professional.