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Posted by on Apr 27, 2007 in Media | 10 comments

Writing (for Blogs, etc.): And How Not to Bore Readers

roy peter clark_1.jpg
(Photo Courtesy N. Ram — The Hindu)

Writing is a an art and a craft. Some are born with it. Others have to struggle to become good writers through hard work and perseverance. To put it in a bit of Shakespearean language: ‘It blesseth him that writes…and blesseth him that reads…’

Many people do not realise but an invisible relation/bond develops between the writer and the reader. Some consider it as sacred, while others couldn’t be bothered about it. This applies to both who write the main stories/articles or those who make comments on these.

Then there is that old debate whether one can learn good and effective writing through one’s own personal efforts and practice, or as a participatory effort in a group (without losing one’s distinct style of expression). Or by combining the two.

“I think it is a rich time when writers are talking about their craft and writing about it. There are generous and talented people who are not keeping their strategies to themselves. They are sharing them with others,” says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar and vice president at the Poynter Institute at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“There is also much more available and free and online about the writing craft than there has ever been before. So in addition to that — yes, I am old-fashioned enough that I want to be able to hold a book and carry it around with me — one of the first things we did at Poynter (Institute) after the book (Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer) was published was to create this writing blog that offers, two or three times a week, new material, additional examples, and new tips (at . One of the great advantages is that it makes the world even smaller.

“The original essays on the Poynter website were written for journalists. But the book was rewritten for the broadest possible audience of writers. My journalism roots are married to my literary training and sensibilities. We took about half of the journalistic examples out of the book version and replaced them with examples from literature, poetry, expository essays, memoirs and other forms of writing. I would say it is a much richer resource because of that.

“It is an ancient strategy. You know in the year 1000 [there was] the first significant piece of English literature, an epic poem called Beowulf. I have read it in old English and in translations. You find that the writer writes in cinematic angles. Sometimes he has the camera pulled back so that you can see the hero on the ship against the backdrop of the mountains. In the feast, you can also see the rings on the queen’s fingers, you can see the red light shining in the monster’s eyes.

“I think what happens in conventional newspaper writing is that the writers write from the middle distance. Look at these serpentine lines [pointing to a photograph] in an election in South Africa in the barren lines of Johannesburg. I want the writer to show the lines from the distance from the sky and hilltop but I also want to see another famous image of the old lady being carried to the polling booth by her two sons. I want to get up close and also step back.

“It makes writing more interesting. We would not watch a movie that only showed us the safe middle distance between the camera and the source.”

Roy Peter Clark’s specialisation and passion is to teach writing. He is constantly looking for effective ways to demystify writing and train writers in a ‘purposeful craft’ they can learn — working with ‘tools’ that can be ‘borrowed… cleaned, sharpened, and passed along.’ He has authored or edited 14 books on writing and journalism.

In his most recent work, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2006), he has assembled an essential kit that all writers can use regardless of the nature of their work.

The excerpts above are from Roy Peter Clark’s interview in India’s leading newspaper, The Hindu. To read more please click here…

To visit the fascinating Poynter website please click here…

To read my earlier post on bloggers please click here…