Writing in the heat of the moment

Journalists emphasize the importance of writing in “hot heat.” In other words, it is important to write as the events unfold.  As school starts, Gulf Coast residents are struggling to deal with record flooding from Hurricane Harvey, but communities throughout the country may face difficult situations throughout the school year. Even those outside the community may be involved. Localize coverage by recording how students in your school assist with calamities in other parts of the country. It is far more effective than running stock photos from news services.


Follow these steps to get started.


Free write. Write continuously for 15 minutes at a time without regard to spelling, grammar or organization. Every so often, note the time, place and circumstances of what is happening around you.

Don’t self-edit. You don’t need to share free writing with anyone, so let yourself write as ideas and thoughts come into your head. Getting everything on paper will help you remember the situation exactly as it happened.

Use all five senses. It’s easy to remember sights, but don’t forget to note the sounds and smells of what’s happening around you. Also be aware of temperature and muscular tension. What does it feel like to walk through deep water or snow? What sounds did you hear as you observed the fire?


As you become more comfortable in the situation, listen to what people are saying.


Write down the most quotable quotes.  Those who you interview need not always be students or teachers from your school. Talk to everyone affected, including friends and family members to record their impressions and reactions.

Consider emotions. Remember people affected by natural disasters may feel overwhelmed by emotions and may not feel safe discussing their feelings. Respect their space.

Don’t forget the human element. Others may find some relief in talking. Let them talk. (You are not a psychologist; don’t analyze their responses.)

By the numbers. Listen for facts & figures as they are reported by officials. Statistics and numbers help better tell the story.


After returning to school, become a storyteller.


Choose an angle. Students and teachers will be very willing to share their stories. More than likely, their stories will provide an angle for your coverage.

Collect photos. Ask for photos of your area and surrounding areas from students and your photographers. Be sure to ask permission before running a photo in your story.

Layer coverage by using multiple secondary coverage modules in addition to your feature photo, headline and copy.Always include a fact box with specific information about the event. Use as many numbers as available.

Writing in the heat of the moment brings authenticity to your coverage, while adding quotes and details lends depth.