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Getting to "-30-"

Do you find it tough to drag yourself to the end of the story? Follow these tips.

elcome to your blog post. Use this space to connect with your readers and potential cThe Difference Between Good and Bad Writing (

In journalism, “-30-” historically indicates the end of a news story. The end is also designated by three X’s (three times the Roman numeral for 10), or three pound signs/hash tags (###). As a reporter in the days when newspapers were king, I used these symbols by rote, without thinking about them or questioning their origin. But over the years, I got curious about what they mean. There are various theories, according to The Newswriter’s Handbook by Rob Melton. One holds that it dates back to an old slug used in the olden days, when copy was set by hand—letter by letter, and backward, so the reverse impressions would read properly. When men worked “at the case,” the copy was cut into takes and numbered. The man with the last take would place his “30” slug to indicate he was through.

One theory is that the journalistic employment of -30- originated from the number's use during the American Civil War era in the 92 Code of telegraphic shorthand, where it signified the end of a transmission and that it found further favor when it was included in the Phillips Code of abbreviations and short markings for common use that was developed by the Associated Press wire service. Telegraph operators familiar with numeric wire signals such as the 92 Code used these railroad codes to provide logistics instructions and train orders, and they adapted them to notate an article's priority or confirm its transmission and receipt. This metadata would occasionally appear in print when typesetters included the codes in newspapers,[5] especially the code for "No more – the end", which was presented as "- 30 -" on a typewriter. Whatever the case, I’ve come to think of “getting to 30” as just finishing the damned thing. I confess I’m something of a fusspot when it comes to writing, more editor than writer. In almost every case, I prefer clean, lean, minimalist copy. So even after a story is done, I’ll go in and ferret out every nonessential word until the prose is as simple as possible. Among editors, I am known for changing a single word, and then submitting a B version of my story, and sometimes a C version. This can become a never-ending exercise, so that completing anything at all, even a short blog post like this one, is a challenge. Today, let’s talk about getting to 30, as painlessly and efficiently as possible. It’s an article of faith among writers that you have to write bad before you write good. In the words of the poet Sylvia Plath, “Every day, writing. No matter how bad. Something will come.” Jay McInerney, author of Brights Lights, Big City, said he subscribes to the “Abstract Expressionist approach” to writing. “Throw ink at paper. Hope for pattern to emerge.” Julia Cameron of The Writers Way put it this way: “In order to be a good writer, I have to be willing to be a bad writer. ... (I) can sort it out later—if it needs any sorting.” In other words, when you plop yourself down to face that dreaded blank page, send your inner editor to time out, and give the sloppy, undisciplined writer free rein. Then plunge in, and write and write and write without restraint. Let it all gush out, stream-of-consciousness style, knowing you can edit later. Somewhere in that pile of words, of half-formed thoughts and conclusions, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find the seed of something good. It's like the editor is your schoolteacher, and the writer is the third-graders on the playground, playing full out, having a blast, and later coming back to the classroom and being obedient and making it make sense. When you’re done writing, when the gusher has been fully tapped, like an oil well, then let it sit for a while. A couple of hours, overnight, a few days. There’s something wonderful about the process of creating that your content will remain in your brain in some back drawer for that period and some of the problems will work themselves out. When you reread that mess you produced, some of the themes and throughlines will become wonderfully apparent. You can pare back the detritus and shape it and massage it until it’s good. Remember, if you let your editor be the boss, your writer will wither and it will take much longer to produce anything at all. So let your writer come out to play. The editor will always be there, to get you to 30 later.

Whichever symbol you decide to use, don’t forget that it comes out of tradition and respect, and simply means…”The end.”

– originally written by Lara Cohn

Thirty pica ems was the maximum length line used in early typesetting machines. thus “30” was the end of the line

In the days before typewriters XXX (Roman for 30) on manuscript copy indicated the end of

the story.

Thirty pica ems was the

maximum length line used in early

typesetting machines. thus “30”

was the end of the line.

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