Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My show and tell

This is one of my all-time favorite sites for narrative journalism.

I want it to be one of the tools in your toolbox rather than something you read in its entirety for class today. One of the best things about going to graduate school in Boston was that I got hooked up with the Neiman Foundation by volunteering at their conferences. Being privvy to smart humble folks talking about and reflecting on craft was hugely important to my development as a writer. It's the crucial piece in addition to actually doing the work.

Anyway, the site gives you access to some of the best current narrative journalism being published all over the place as well as terrific interviews and craft essays. It's the continuing conversation.

At this particular moment in the quarter you probably don't have a lot of time to kill by perusing the site, but maybe you want to bookmark it for future reference.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


"The first draft is a creative process, and I'm the artist or the writer at that point. When I finish, I become an editor--it's a little schizophrenic--and the editor doesn't have nearly the fun the writer has." -- Lanford Wilson

Revising is the toughest (and most important) part of the writing process. Most of the hard work is revision. It can take days, weeks, months, even years to finish a really solid piece of writing. Even longer if you want to make it art. Sound discouraging? It's not meant to be. Writing isn't for the lazy. It's work. The finished product is something to be proud of.

As a beginning writer, the toughest thing you can do is cut. How do you know what to cut? I think it's instinct. You'll feel it in your gut. If you question a line of dialogue or a scene or a character or simply a sentence--cut it. Trust those instincts.

Remember, this is your story. I know it's easy to get overwhelmed with feedback in workshop. I think it's good to get all sorts of feedback as a beginner. Workshops allow you a variety of different perspectives on your work. You're all relatively new and sometimes you just don't know what works until you put something out there and people tell you how they read your stuff. This is another part of the process. You can take or leave any comments made in workshop. Some of it is helpful; some of it is useless. That's workshop. In the end, you have to decide on what needs to be done. This is your writing. Not ours.

One of the hardest things for some of us to learn is to trust ourselves. Start practicing now. Even if you don’t think you “know” anything about writing or journalism, you’ve been reading it for practically your whole lives. Try to get some perspective on your own work. Ask yourself with as much distance as possible, “If I came across this in a magazine or newspaper, would I want to read it? Once I started it, would I keep reading it to the end?” Then try to answer as specifically as possible why or why not. Then get back in there and make it something you wouldn’t put down.

Revision is not the same as polishing. It isn’t simply a matter of fixing typos, moving around a sentence or paragraph or two, or making other minor line edits others point out. Revision means implosion. It means taking risks. It means moving the piece to the next level by making bold choices in a new direction. To see it, and then make it anew. Writing is rewriting. Rewriting is revision.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

DOGL update

OK, so it's DOGL tomorrow, and as agreed, we will NOT be meeting for class. We had discussed making up class Sunday evening; however, I feel that since workshop was on the agenda, such a late workshop won't be terribly beneficial given the deadline for your final drafts. So, what I'd like us to do is simply conduct class online. In addition to your blog post connecting the reading to your experience, write another post pitching the next story you'd like to do. Also, scratch what I said about no comments on your small groups' revised pieces; instead, write thorough comments on your small group members' blogs in response to their pieces.

Let's keep the deadline tonight for posting your revised profiles and push the deadline for responding to each other's work to Thursday at noon.

Then, continue working and revising your profiles and turn in final drafts next week. Also, read and prepare to discuss with Gail Griffin her book "The Events of October."


I'll be available Thursday from 2:30-3:30 at Biggby, and I can make more time Thursday and Friday if you'd like to meet. Let me know.

Enjoy DOGL!

7th week happenings

Hi, all,

Don't forget what's up this week:

1. Post your revised profiles by Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
2. Read Parts IV and V from Telling True Stories.
3. Come to class with questions about the readings from the past two weeks, and
4. Also have a story idea to pitch for the final assignment.
5. Be ready to workshop the latest drafts in small groups that look like this:

Daniel, Zac, Emily
Paula, Darrin, Brian (though Brian's involvement will have to be online)
Hannah, Suzanne, Jon
Colin, Matt, Kelsey
Laurel, Chandler, Charlotte
Woody, Cassie, Trevor

I suggest that we conduct the workshops in class and without previously posted comments on each other's work. That way it will be slightly fresher and spontaneous in workshop.

6. Also, please write a blog post about the reading and how it applies to your profile-in-progress. In other words, reflect on putting the how-to/theory into practice.

Let me know if you have questions!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

translucence vs. transparency

An interesting argument against explaining your reportage and using first person in nonfiction narrative from Roy Peter Clark at Poynter.

"When we read a novel, watch a movie, see a play, if things go well, we don’t just watch an imitation of life — we enter into it. The author, like the magician, has created an illusion. The lights dim, the curtain opens, images flash on the screen and we are transported, most often to another place and another time.

"By now, most of us understand the engineering of this effect. It comes from scenic construction, from character details, from dialogue, from the variation of points of view, from time in motion, all the strategies of fiction that Tom Wolfe argued could be borrowed by the responsible reporter."

Also, note that Tom French makes an argument that nonfiction narrative is harder to write than fiction. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

5th week assignment

By now, you should have begun reporting your profile pieces, due for workshop 6th week Monday. So, for next week:

1. Continue reporting for narrative and begin devising a structure for your profile.

2. Read this profile, one of the world's most famous, and this presentation by a New Yorker writer on writing profiles.

3. Also read p. 19-74 in Telling True Stories.

4. Post a reading response on your blog and comment on at least two other classmates' blogs.

5. And, for fun, and in the spirit of putting theory into practice and becoming much tighter narrative writers, revise your personal essay based on your 15-word Franklin outline and turn in a hard copy (along with your Franklin outline on which its structure is based) to me and post both to your blog by NOON on Monday, April 29.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hitting the ground running!

By the time you read this, you should be a little more acquainted with this strange and wonderful thing called narrative journalism and eager to start practicing.

First, I want you to spend some time thinking about story. What are the elements of a good story? What are the stories that make up your family history? Why? What are the stories you tell about yourself, either to yourself or to others? What are the experiences in your life that have changed you? What are you thinking about these days?

I start the term with a personal essay assignment, because I think it's useful for you to understand the elegance and necessity of story by culling and crafting one from your own life. Feel free to blog about the ideas you're thinking about approaching with this personal essay.

Another way to prepare yourself to write your personal essay is to read and study recently published examples of the form. In The New York Times, check out Modern Love from the Sunday Styles section and Lives from the Magazine for examples and potential intended publications.

Here's some information on how to submit to Modern Love. And here's that helpful "How to Write a 'Lives' Essay" piece I handed out in class.

Take a cue from any of these you like, or come up with something completely your own. The key is to rely on the elements of story and a point of insight, or a turn that shows a change in thinking, understanding, or character.

I'm so eager to read what you come up with! Heed Anne Lamott's advice and don't be afraid to write shitty first drafts. Get something out, get feedback, and then shape it. You must turn in a first draft, but you'll get a grade on your revision. All writing is rewriting. You'll hear me say this more than you'd like, so get used to it!

With that I send you off to explore, discover and write. Turn off the inner critic long enough to get something out, rework it to your heart's content, and post it for all to see by Monday at 5 p.m. Why not hit the ground running spring quarter? You're writers, so write!