November 10, 2009

Since my book “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” was conceived on this Web site, I would like to bring you up to date on what has happened to the book since its publication three years ago. I also have some news on how you can get your hands on these writing strategies both old and new.

Due out August 2010

“The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English”

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    First, news about the book:

    • More than 60,000 copies are now in print.
    • It is available in hard cover, paper cover, and scholastic editions.
    • The cost of a copy continues to decrease: $9.09 is the discounted price offered by Amazon.
    • A quick list of “Writing Tools” is available for free, as are hundreds of essays I’ve written on the craft for Poynter.org.
    • The book is now available in Danish and German and Portuguese translations.
    • Poynter.org will now and then republish some chapters of “Writing Tools” that I think have special relevance for journalists.

    Because of the great work of my Poynter colleagues, 50 audio podcasts of the 50 chapters of “Writing Tools” are now available, free of charge, on iTunes U. To my amazement, there have been more than one million downloads of these podcasts. For one week we were number one! Plans are underway to create video lessons drawn from the book as well.

    The sequel to “Writing Tools” is scheduled for publication in August 2010, once again by Little, Brown. The title is “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English.” It also has 50 chapters, each describing how to turn a traditional technical rule of language usage into a practical tool. There is a sexy orange semicolon on the cover.

    An early draft of my manuscript for this new book contained 100 chapters. My editor, Tracy Behar, helped me through the difficult task of cutting the book in half. Today, we will start publishing many of the chapters that will not appear in the book here.

    In doing this work, I am not standing on the shoulders of giants, as they used to say back in the day; I am hanging on to their bootstraps for dear life. One of those titans of the craft was Donald Murray, to whom “Writing Tools” is dedicated. Don died at the age of 82 in 2006, just months after “Writing Tools” was published, and it pleases me to know that he read and appreciated its dedication.

    Don’s work on the writing craft was so rich, diverse and widely published that it was hard to know how to introduce his ideas to a new generation of students, teachers and journalists. That problem has been solved with the publication of “The Essential Don Murray: Lessons From America’s Greatest Writing Teacher.” I’ll leave a full review for another day.

    For now, I’ll repeat some famous Murray lessons printed on the cover of this collection:

    • “Never a day without a line.”
    • “There will be no second draft without a first.”
    • “Hard work guarantees writing; nothing guarantees good writing.”
    • “Every reader has a question which can’t be avoided. Don’t.”

    As I browsed through these essays, my eyes settled on a brief model of the writing process, one of many crafted over the years by Murray and his acolytes. This one divided the process into three parts: prevision, vision, and revision.

    There it was, prevision, the solution to a theoretical problem I’d been grappling with for years. What to call that period of mental and physical rehearsal that precedes coming to a full understanding of what your story is really about — before you truly “see” the story. Now that I have a new name for it — prevision — I can think of ways to use that preparation time more strategically. In other words, I can sharpen some new tools.

    Just as Murray continues to share his tools with me from that vast beyond, I am happy to share them with you through whatever platforms you find most helpful: online essays, chats, podcasts, quick lists, videos and books. If I live as long as Murray, I’ll have 20 years to get this done. By then there will be many new tools to discover.

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    Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty…
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