Roy Peter Clark

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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.


slow-reading-250

The power of slow reading in fast times

I am a slow reader, and that’s a good thing.

Let me give you an example.  Go back and re-read my first sentence, more slowly this time.  What do you notice about it?  What surprises you?  How does it work?  You can’t answer any of those questions by reading it fast.  Only through slow reading can you get an X-ray view of the writer at work.

slow-reading-275When I read that sentence, I notice it is divided into two parts:  1) I am a slow reader) and 2) that’s a good thing.  Both of those parts work as independent clauses.  Connecting the two creates something called a compound sentence.  There is a kind of equality, a balance between the parts. Turning from structure to content, my slow reading reveals to me a creative tension between the parts.  Read more

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anchors-100

Is it time for news anchors to take a ‘Vow of Chastity?’

News' anchors Katie Couric, Brian Williams, left, and Charles Gibson,  on the NBC 'Today' show in 2008, for cancer research. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

News’ anchors Katie Couric, Brian Williams, left, and Charles Gibson, on the NBC ‘Today’ show in 2008, for cancer research. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Let’s think of the fall of NBC’s Brian Williams as the climax of a narrative that began in the 1950s when the television news business was still young.

It was in 1958 that Edward R. Murrow of CBS addressed a convention of broadcast news directors and offered, “It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.”

It turned out to be Murrow’s most famous speech, hitting this high point near the end: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire.  Read more

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E L James

50 Shades of word play: Getting beyond first-level creativity

Every time there is a big, big story, the geniuses of Facebook and Twitter try out for the clever Olympics. One pun after another, wisecrack after wisecrack, metaphor after simile, writers strut their stuff, looking for love and trying to out-snark the competition. It’s a Snarknado!

It might be the Super Bowl, the Oscars or even the arrival of the movie version of the steamy book “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Early screenings have begun with fans looking ahead to Valentine’s Day weekend openings almost everywhere. So what is a Tweeter or headline writer to do?

Here’s my advice: Go beyond what I call “first-level creativity.” Believe me, you don’t want to be one of the thousand class clowns to come up with the same lame joke or reference. Read more

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the-persistence-of-memory-1931-250

Brian Williams and the resistance of memory

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harper-lee250

Timing and other writing lessons from Harper Lee

Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from the 1962 movie "To Kill a Mockingbird." (AP Photo)

Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from the 1962 movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (AP Photo)

Today is a day in a writer’s life when the stars seem in alignment. On a day when I am working on a revision of a book chapter on To Kill a Mockingbird and the writing strategies of Harper Lee, news has broken that her publisher will produce a sequel this summer: Go Set a Watchman.

Reports say that the manuscript was written before her most famous book but serves as a kind of sequel with the narrator Scout now grown, living in New York, and still learning from her righteous father Atticus Finch. Read more

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questions250

Seven questions every editor should ask the writer

I have done a lot of coaching and editing in my career, but I have never, since the college literary magazine, been THE editor. But I often imagine that I am. So let’s say that I am assigned to become a coaching editor at a make-believe enterprise called the Calusa News. We are covering a community on the west coast of Florida, and I will direct the work of, say, ten writers and reporters.

The first thing I would do – before I read or edited a single story – is interview each writer. This turns out to be a surprisingly rare event. I remember chatting with one veteran reporter at a newspaper who told me, “I’ve been here for more than 30 years, and you are the first person who asked me about how I work.”

Recently, I read a magazine article about “36 Questions that Lead to Love.” The questions — such as “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?” — are designed to create intimacy, even among strangers. Read more

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aljazeera-logo-100

Al Jazeera memo illustrates the importance of word choice

I’ve spent a lot of time and space over the last decade thinking and writing about political language, propaganda, censorship, and banned and taboo words. Every time the language wars begin heating up (illegal alien vs. undocumented worker), I find myself reverting to a set of first principles:

  1. What is the literal meaning of the questionable word or phrase?
  2. Does that word or phrase have any connotations, that is, associations that are positive or negative?
  3. How does the word correspond to what is actually happening on the ground?
  4. What group (sometimes called a “discourse community”) favors one locution over another, and why?
  5. Is the word or phrase “loaded”?  How far does it steer us from neutral?
  6. Does the word or phrase help me see, or does it prevent me from seeing?
Read more
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JohnEvelyn100

Four weather writing lessons from someone who died more than 300 years ago

I have dear friends and family members from Maryland to Maine so I am paying special attention to their fate over the next few days.  The weather event has an interesting name:  a bombogenesis, more sinister, it sounds, than a polar vortex. Forecasters are describing a storm of “historic proportions,” one that might produce as much as three feet of snow in parts of New England.

To family and friends in Rhode Island, I say, only half in jest:  move to Florida. But not this week.

 Sir John Evelyn

Sir John Evelyn

I am a reading and writing teacher so it’s my habit to look for lessons in the journalism and literature of the past. In the case of weather, I have stumbled upon the work of a British author named John Evelyn (1620-1706). Read more

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Official game balls for the NFL football Super Bowl XLIX sit in a bin before being laced and inflated at the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. in Ada, Ohio, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. The New England Patriots will play the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Gategate: It’s a scandal that we revert so easily to the –gate suffix

Now we have Deflategate, the scandal involving the New England Patriots and the doctoring of footballs. That same team gave us Spygate, in which the team secretly videotaped the practices of rivals. Not long ago we had Bridgegate, in which the governor of New Jersey was investigated for causing a traffic jam in the town of a political foe.

The use of –gate as the scandal suffix of choice goes back, we know, to the 1972 break-ins at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., a crime and political dirty trick that cost President Richard Nixon his job. There is actually a Wikipedia page that lists the progeny of Watergate, dozens upon dozens of examples from the worlds of politics, sports and entertainment. Such is the power of –gate that it has made its way into the scandal language of other countries and even other tongues. Read more

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twitter-haiti

How one young Canadian reporter in Haiti helped turn Twitter into a storytelling tool

Twitter launched in 2006 and in less than a decade has almost 300 million users. Conceived as a social network to share information, it was gradually embraced by journalists and is now an essential tool for reporting and communication. In spite of its 140-character limit, it has also become a powerful platform for storytelling, used as a live blog or as a kind of inverted serial narrative, with each tweet a micro-scene or mini-chapter.

One of the pioneers of this use, I have argued, is a young reporter from the Toronto Star named Joanna Smith. A beat writer of Canadian government and politics, Smith was sent to Haiti to cover the effects of a devastating earthquake and early efforts to recover. This week marks the fifth anniversary of that disaster. Read more

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