Chapter 20 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Writing the Story

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After all your investigative work and research, ultimately you have to write your story. Here, Bob shares strategies for turning what you've uncovered into a compelling piece of journalism.

Topics include: Write Every Day • Write a Premature Draft • Talk Through Your Story • How to Structure a News Story • How to Structure a Book

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism

In 24 lessons, learn how to uncover the truth from the greatest journalist of our time.

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One of the things you'll find about writing if you have the information, if you really have done the reporting and have your outline, it's a joy. One of the things I do and have done in 18 books, just out of habit and kind of discipline, I've read 10 pages a day during the writing phase. Sometimes that takes four hours. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes 16 hours. And I always discipline myself. OK, you've got to get those 10 pages done on the days when you only have to work four hours. It is not about, for me anyway, some muse or some inspiration. It is the information. After you report and talk to people and they have a sense of what the story is, write what I would call a premature draft-- not anything that is going to be published or broadcast, but a summary of what you know at midpoint. It's a very simple, and in a way obvious, process. But lots of people kind of choke up. Oh, I want to have everything. I'm not clear what the lead is, the first paragraph. Oh, I have not questioned the fourth person who was involved in this. Get some of it down. The guiding light always is what's interesting, what's clear, what's new. Also, the psychology of writing is so important. When you have something down, even if you're only semi-satisfied with it, you're going to sleep better that night. I frequently talk about the rule of six, which means that there are about six things in every story-- not necessarily the first six paragraphs, but the six things that are important, including the lead. Now, sometimes it's only four. Sometimes it's 10. But you want to list those. And then write it out. And it provides you a guide for where the holes are. The saying is-- well, how did it write? And sometimes, you'll get in a position where it looks like-- oh, it's going to be complicated, or it's not going to work. And then you get it out on paper in some form, and it works. Or you may think that it's going to be brilliant and you're already ready, and it kind of collapses or its weaknesses are quite evident. Another aspect of this is for anyone, even a very fluid writer-- talk the story out to somebody. Most people are naturally oral. And if you just sit down and say-- OK, this is what I've got. These are the six elements or the four or whatever that they are, it's astonishing how you can sit down with somebody. It does not have to be a journalist. It can be anyone. And say, hey, this is where I am. Let's spend a few minutes, and let me sketch out-- it's kind of like a pencil outline that is eventually going to become a full painting-- what I've got. Ask me what you think the important questions are. And then you can say to whoever your superior is, or even the ultimate editor, this is where we are on this story. It's like if you're going out on a ship at sea, you take bearings. We're halfway there, or we're 10 mile...

Find the real story

Bob Woodward was just 29 when he changed a nation. His Watergate reporting with Carl Bernstein helped expose the corruption of the Nixon presidency. Two Pulitzer Prizes and eighteen best-selling books later, the legendary journalist is teaching his first-ever online class for anyone who wants to find the truth. Learn to investigate a story, interview sources, and understand how the news is written. The next history-making story might be yours.

Watch, listen, and learn as Bob teaches investigative journalism in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Bob will also answer select student questions.

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Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism