Writing Tools

POYNTER

Why I always play music during writing workshops

The most fun I have as a teacher is when I can incorporate music into writing instruction. (Photo by Armondo Solares) I was 46 years old, and my life and time were filled by three pursuits: teaching writing, coaching girls soccer and playing in a rock band. My imagination was born, or reborn, that year in 1994. Read More
POYNTER

After a few years out of print, 'Coaching Writers' will return

Don FryI met my first real writing coach in 1970. Don Fry was my graduate professor. I was 22. He was 33.  Last week Don and I conducted a writing workshop in D.C. with a group of writers and editors, eager to grow in their craft. I am 66. He is now 77. I wonder how many students and … Read More
POYNTER

For Banned Books Week: An X-ray reading from Catcher in the Rye

File photo of J.D. Salinger appears next to copies of his classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye" as well as his volume of short stories called "Nine Stories." (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)Earlier this year the editors of American Scholar published a dozen examples of “best sentences,” passages from classic literature worth saving and savoring. I was inspired by … Read More
POYNTER

Want to avoid procrastination? Impose an early deadline on yourself

When I wrote "The Glamour of Grammar," I turned in the manuscript about three months late. Not a good feeling. Friday morning, I turned in a finished draft of my next book, "The Art of X-ray Reading," three months early. A very good feeling. The key part of the word deadline, remember, is not the “line” part, but the … Read More
POYNTER

Dashes -- the Kardashians of punctuation

The dash is the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks: misplaced, over-exposed, shamelessly self-promoting, always eager to elbow out her jealous sisters the comma, colon, and semicolon. My friend and mentor Don Fry has for years waged a holy war against the dash. Not the hundred-yard dash or a dash of paprika, but that most horizontal mode of punctuation, also known … Read More
POYNTER

Accept praise for something great in your story – even if you didn’t mean it

We writers say we want more praise for our work, but, when it comes, we are often not ready to accept it. We are better at absorbing the blows of negative criticism, perhaps because we suffer from the impostor syndrome, that fear that this is the day that we will be found out, exposed as frauds, banished to law school. If … Read More
POYNTER

Friendly Fire: learn its history before you use it

An Afghan police officer stands guard during a campaign rally in the Paghman district of Kabul, Afghanistan. Five American troops were killed in an apparent coalition airstrike in southern Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, in one of the worst friendly fire incidents involving U.S. and coalition troops since the start of the war in 2001. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) The recent death of American forces in Afghanistan by what is called “friendly fire” invites a discussion of the meaning and history of that term. Should journalists use it as standard language for a certain kind of military accident? Should it be avoided as euphemism or propaganda, the way some writers avoid “collateral damage”? What I’ve learned about the term comes from a variety of dictionaries, including the OED; an overview on Wikipedia; and a useful commentary from 2007 on the Language Log website by Ben Zimmer. Read More
POYNTER

Why these are the 'Ten Best Sentences'

The editors of American Scholar have chosen “Ten Best Sentences” from literature, and readers have suggested many more. They threw in an eleventh for good measure. This lovely feature caught me in the middle of a new book project, "Art of X-ray Reading," in which I take classic passages such as these and look beneath the surface of the … Read More
POYNTER

A new explanatory journalism can be built on a strong foundation

I like young writers with big ideas. I met Ezra Klein last year at a public writing conference sponsored by his old newspaper, The Washington Post, and the Poynter Institute. Like his writing, Klein was sharp, smart, and quick, arguing for a new kind of approach to writing about public policy. He said that in the digital age journalists were beginning to doubt the efficacy of what he called “the reverse pyramid,” his version of the more common “inverted pyramid.” He advocated taking more responsibility for what readers know and understand about government, policy, and all such technical issues. Sometimes this is best done in a Q&A format, or via a tidy bulleted list, forms that lead to less clutter, jargon, and bureaucratic obfuscation. Hooray, I thought. Finally, somebody is getting it. Read More
POYNTER

For procrastinators: 6 gifts for writers

Christmas is just days away, but there's still time to grab last-minute gifts -- with rush shipping or a dash into your local retailer -- for the journalists in your life, whether they’re minimalists or high maintenance. Here are a few suggestions: 1. For the journalist with a sweet tooth Vosges Chocolate Library confections come in chocolate gift boxes … Read More