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By Jacqui Banaszynski

Last week life brought me one of those full-circle gifts. I’m hosting my friend Cristian Lupsa for a few days in Seattle and at the mountain cabin. I met Cristian when he was a masters student at the Missouri School of Journalism. I later worked with him for more than a decade as he founded and edited a groundbreaking magazine in his native Romania and led the dazzling Power of Storytelling conference in Bucharest; presentations at the conference have often found their way to Storyboard posts.

Cristian is on a bit of sabbatical. He ended the magazine after 13 years due to the same resource pressures eroding many publications. He has been teaching a narrative journalism class at the University of Bucharest, coaches and edits journalists around Europe, and serves as a juror for this year’s European Press Prize. He’s now on a month-long walkabout to visit friends in the U.S. and Canada, including some he met as a 2014 Nieman Fellow. And every Sunday, he writes “Draft Four,” which he describes it as “A year of weekly letters that I’ll use as tools while I figure out the next chapter of my life. Will include things I think, read, watch or listen to.” It’s also super-smart about story craft.

As Cristian and I have wandered through unmapped conversations about all of this, it dawned on me that I wrote my first Storyboard newsletter from his newsroom in Bucharest. That was five years ago this week. I was rusty as a writer after 25 years working primarily as an editor, teacher and coach. I no doubt was swearing over the keyboard, as much about my own stiffness as my frustrations with MailChimp. Cristian helped with both, suggesting ideas for things I might write in an intro newsletter, talking me off the deadline I-can’t-do-this ledge and showing me, with great patience, how MailChimp works.

The newsletter has gone out every Friday since. That’s 260 newsletters — some meh, some fine and a few that please me. Each one still puts me on that ledge, but I spend less time there and usually can get myself off. I grumble some weeks as deadline approaches; anyone who has worked as a columnist or daily newspaper reporter or editor knows that the constancy of the work can feel, in the moment, like a grind.

But I also recognize that the writing-rust flaked off after a few months; mini-essays that once took me three days of fretting now take a few hours. The advice I give others has come back around to my own work:

Writing requires writing.

Good writing sometimes requires not-so-good writing.

To write anything worthwhile, you have to have something to say.

Deadline is your friend.

When deadline hits, hit the SEND button.

When you get in a rut, only the work can pull you out of it.

There’s more, of course. The point is, these five years at Storyboard have been a gift, one that has deepened my knowledge of and appreciation for the work we do — both the craft and the mission, the mechanics and the art. Not every week has gone smoothly, but post after post, newsletter after newsletter, I try to hold to a core goal: to provide tools and inspiration to this community.

Now as I watch Cristian work on the next installment of “Draft Four,” I take note of his discipline — taking constant notes about his days, meeting and interviewing people with wisdom to offer, taking a purposeful approach to the “next chapter” of his life — I am reminded to more of my version of the same. That will start with a scan back through five years of Storyboard, taking stock of what I feel good about, squinting hard at missed opportunities and doing some methodical planning for what might come next. Because when things come full circle, they don’t come to an end; they start another round.

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