Roy Peter Clark

Roy has taught writing at every level--to school children and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors--for more than 30 years, and has spoken about the writer's craft on The Oprah Winfrey Show, NPR and Today; at conferences from Singapore to Brazil; and at news organizations from The New York Times to the Sowetan in South Africa. He is the author of "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer," the book and the blog.


don_zimmer_small

How Don Zimmer’s baseball card inspired my book on short writing

I was at a baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida, Wednesday night when news filtered through the stands that baseball legend Don Zimmer had died. His death was not broadcast by the stadium announcer or flashed on the giant video screen.

Almost everyone at Tropicana Field seemed to have a cell phone, and, as the news spread on social networks, it also spread by word of mouth. A friend even showed me a photo on his phone of Tampa Bay Rays coach Tom Foley – who wears Zimmer’s number 66 as a tribute – crying at the news in the dugout.

Don Zimmer was a baseball legend fueled, not by his talent (he was a .235 career hitter), but by his longevity and the rich variety of his experiences:

  • He knew Babe Ruth.
Read more
Tools:
1 Comment
Pollard

The ‘cinematic slow-motion effect’ of Laura Hillenbrand’s ‘Seabiscuit’

[What we all need leading up to a Triple Crown horse race is an essay about the rhetoric of punctuation. So here it is, adapted from a chapter in my book The Glamour of Grammar. Don’t worry, there is an actual connection to horse racing. I have chosen to analyze a special passage from a special book, Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand. A close reading of her prose will reveal how a champion among writers uses every trick in the book to create special literary effects.]

Whenever we concentrate on the rules of grammar and punctuation, we run the risk of veiling the creativity and flexibility available to authors who think of them as tools of meaning and effect.

Let’s take as an example a splendid passage from Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book Seabiscuit, a stirring narrative history of one of America’s legendary racehorses.… Read more

Tools:
1 Comment
honestwriter_deposit

Coming clean: notes on becoming an honest writer

I’ve written four books since 2006, and I’m at work on another. But for every book that reaches publication, I have at least one (sometimes two or three) proposals rejected.

One of them was to be called “The Honest Writer: A Guide to Originality.” I stumbled upon my proposal last week and delivered part of it to a group of college teachers gathered for a conference on academic integrity. Having dusted it off for them, I thought I’d show it to you. It includes, you should know at the start, a list of some of my literary sins over the years. The purpose of such a list is not to insist that everyone cheats, or, as they say in the sports world: “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” I write more in the spirit of “The Confessions” of St.… Read more

Tools:
3 Comments
Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida. (AP Photo/Jeff Daly/Invision)

What journalists can learn about authorship from Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou speaks on race relations at Congregation B’nai Israel and Ebenezer Baptist Church on Jan. 16, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida. (AP Photo/Jeff Daly/Invision)

In 2006 the Canadian scholar Stuart Adam and I co-edited a collection of essays titled “Journalism: The Democratic Craft.” It is a rich — and largely unread — anthology of work that reflects on the key aspects of knowledge that fuel the activities we describe as “journalism.”

The essays consider the essential elements of the practice: from news and evidence, to language and narrative, to analysis and interpretation. Stuart and I begin the collection with six essays on “Authorship and Craft,” written by writers as diverse as George Orwell, V.S. Naipaul, Joan Didion, Salman Rushdie, and Robert Stone.

Toward the end of the process, I stumbled upon an interview with a famous author I found so compelling, so writerly — if there is such a word — that I argued for its inclusion.… Read more

Tools:
4 Comments
Joe Maddon_AP

Great journalist or great manager: Who would you prefer for a boss?

I am going to begin this essay on leadership with an extended baseball analogy. I realize that this will make my argument sound “gendered,” and not in a good way, but I’ll take my chances.

There are a lot of good baseball managers out there, and one of them is Joe Maddon, skipper of our local team the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are struggling this year with injuries to their pitching staff, but under Maddon’s leadership they have become – with one of the lowest salary budgets – one of the consistently best teams in baseball.

There are lots of reasons for this success. One of them is Maddon. Players like to play for him. He has high standards for his players. He demands maximum effort.… Read more

Tools:
7 Comments
pyramid_small

The Pyramid of Journalism Competence: what journalists need to know

What does a journalist need to know?

What defines “competence” in journalism?

When you graduate from a journalism school, what should you know how to do?

In the digital age, the answers to those questions are more important than ever. For more than three decades now, they have been near the center of conversation and debate at Poynter. Before we could figure out what to teach, we needed to understand – in the public interest – what journalists needed to learn.

This process was energized in 1997 by a call to action from Tom Rosenstiel, one of the leaders of a group called the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Over the next two years, the committee conducted “21 public forums attended by 3,000 people and involving testimony from more than 300 journalists,” according to the book “The Elements of Journalism” by Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.… Read more

Tools:
16 Comments
In this image taken from video, Monica Lewinsky embraces President Clinton as he greeted well-wishers at a White House lawn party in Washington Nov. 6, 1996. (AP Photo/APTV)

Lewinsky and Clinton: how their affair redefined our sexual culture

Monica Lewinsky is back in public view with an essay in Vanity Fair. Her reflections, tinged as they are with sexual scandal and the presidency, still fascinate. To the extent that they precede a presidential run by Hillary Clinton, they will be used to fuel the arguments of antagonistic political operatives.

My hope is that journalists and other commentators will not limit themselves to the political frame of this story. As I revisit the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal (how strange it still feels to attach the name of a president with that of an intern), I am reminded how transformative it was not just to our political life, but to our sexual culture as well. I’m tempted to say that the scandal helped redefine sexual intimacy in America.… Read more

Tools:
1 Comment
Cow and field of fresh grass_depositphotos

When cows type: the power of the written word

My friend and Poynter colleague Chip Scanlan has called me many things over the years, including “a Philistine with a Ph.D.” I resemble that remark. In fact, I celebrate the seeming contradiction. I grew up in a working-class, television-drenched culture that immersed me in the world of The Three Stooges, roller derby, and Little Richard. On a parallel track, I experienced an elite parochial school education that pointed higher and higher to a world in which I could speak easily about Shakespeare, Aquinas, and T.S. Eliot.

One practical effect of this duality: I am never surprised by the diverse sources of enlightenment. It may come from a strange inning in a baseball game; a subway map; a Latin inscription atop an academic building; a 700-page novel; a ship’s manifest from Ellis Island; a tweet; a fortune cookie; a children’s book.… Read more

Tools:
1 Comment
shakespeare_small_AP

The Shakespeare sentence that changed my writing – and can change yours

Although we do not know the exact day William Shakespeare was born, we celebrate his birthday on April 23, which brings us to the 450th anniversary of his birth. Since many of us will not be residents of this distracted globe when Will’s big 5-0-0 comes around, we should do our best to praise him now, and as often as we can for as long as we can. There is no one like him.

Those of us who have read my books or attended my classes know that I have a favorite Shakespeare sentence. It comes from “Macbeth” – or as those superstitious thespians refer to it, the “Scottish Play.” Lady Macbeth dies off stage, unable to wash the blood from her hands, no doubt. A messenger approaches Macbeth with the news.… Read more

Tools:
0 Comments
Marquez_AP

Making the familiar strange: the legacy of journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez

This morning, on the front page of the Tampa Bay Times, I read the news that Gabriel García Márquez has died at the age of 87. He was a towering literary figure of the last century, journalist, novelist, essayist, public intellectual, and Nobel laureate. His fiction became a pillar in a literary movement known as “magical realism,” an oxymoron that elevated the work of a school of South American authors and gained it global attention.

A journalist at heart who wrote for newspapers in Colombia during the 1950s, Márquez expressed dissatisfaction with the “magical” part of the literary equation, arguing that every word he had ever written was grounded in experience.

Colette Bancroft, book editor of the Tampa Bay Times, included in her tribute to Márquez, the author’s most famous passage, the first sentences of his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. 

Read more
Tools:
3 Comments