2:05 p.m., March 5, 2003--Writing about writing can be an elusive task, but two well-known journalists, Dennis Jackson, professor of English and director of UDs Journalism Program, and John Sweeney, public editor and newsroom writing coach of the Wilmington News Journal, have compiled a series of essays on the topic in their new book, The Journalists Craft.
The book had its origins in the first Wilmington Writers Workshop in 1991, which attracted 350 journalists and later evolved into the National Writers Workshop, drawing an average of 5,000 journalists each year. All the contributors to The Journalists Craft have been participants in these workshops.
Year after year, these wonderful speakers offered fresh ideas about writing, but, when the workshop was over, there was no record of what was said. Their talks became just notes stuffed in a drawer. John and I decided this was a real loss and that their talks had the makings of a book, Jackson said.
It was an enjoyable and fun book to do, he added. The writers were enthusiastic about contributing, and, lets face it, they were all professional writers who needed little editing.
The first Wilmington Writers Workshop was memorable, Jackson recalled.
John had asked me to be the first speaker, and I had been assigned the topic of how to attract readers back to newspapers. When I arrived, John met me and said I was to be the second speaker but wouldnt say who the first was, Jackson said.
It turned out to be 85-year-old James Michener, who was in Wilmington to accept a Commonwealth Award. He heard about the workshop and asked to talk to the group, greeting them with the words, Hello, fellow writers. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone. His talk was greeted with tumultuous applause, but it sure was an impossible act to follow, Jackson said.
One of the tenets of The Journalists Craft is that its difficult to teach writing. As the editors themselves write in the introduction,
writing comes with no operating instructions
. No one here assumes that good writing can be taught. They understand that it can only be learned, adding that Theres an unconscious aspect of good writing that can only result from years of reading and countless hours spent tapping a keyboard.
In the first essay, veteran journalist Hugh Mulligan also quoted Somerset Maugham on writingThere are three basic rules to good writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
The book reassures readers that the one thing all writers, even veteran journalists, share is that every time they face a keyboard they suffer anxiety.
The Journalists Craft is divided into five sections: The Writing Life, Finding Good Stories, Writing Nonfiction Narrative, Developing Your Craft and Working with Words.
The essays are written by dedicated, seasoned writers, Jackson said, who offer tips, techniques and advice, laced with anecdotes and examples, on writing and finding ones own voice and style. Suggestions may range from something as simple as stopping an article in mid-sentence because its easier to pick up the thread again, to organizing reference material. Other writers give suggestions on self-editing, the basics of business writing, narrative writing, avoiding clichés and exercises for writing workshops.
Both Jackson and Sweeney have contributed to the book, Jackson wrote Rhythms Cousin, Cadence and A StyleCheck for Your Writing, and Sweeney wrote Are Plumbers News?What Makes a Story a Story and Spellcheck and Beyond: A Strategy for Revision. Jeanne Walker, UD professor of English, contributed Speaking of Metaphor.
Other writers include Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, and other well-known journalists such as Mulligan and Lucille deView, who share their lifetimes of learning about writing with readers, making The Journalists Craft a richer book, Jackson said.
Thanks to the variety of writers and topics, The Journalists Craft is fast-paced and entertaining, as well as practical and instructive. Although the book was not written as a textbook, several colleges have adopted it.
The title is somewhat misleading, Jackson said. The book is not only for journalists, but is much broader and for any writer of nonfiction.
The Journalists Craft is published by Allworth Press.
Article by Sue Moncure