New Approaches to Writing

The University had invited a group of alumni to campus to explore new dimensions in writing. This was in response to alumni who felt that the writing they were taught was largely irrelevant in their professional lives and in fact, harmful. The alumni panel was noted for the impact of their writing. None were academics.

The panel moderator asked each panelist to share one lesson they learned from their writing careers that could shape the way the university approached the teaching of writing. Their comments began the session.

George (Business Writer):  I try to keep my writing short. I’ve found that few people will read something that takes more than 2-3 minutes to read. I’ll provide links in my text should the reader want to know more.

Nancy (Blogger):  I agree with George. I publish one blog article a day. They are all short. What I would like to add is I try to capture the reader with the first sentence. Hemmingway was famous for looking for the perfect first sentence. I can’t make that claim, but I try to hook the reader with my opening.

Evelyn (Short Story Writer):  I agree with the first two, but let me add another dimension. I start writing in my head. I think of the story in quiet moments before I ever put words on paper. That doesn’t say that the story won’t change, but I need to have a framework to start.

Jimmy (Columnist):  I’m the same as Evelyn. I start writing in my mind and then when I put pen to paper, the column just flows. You’ll notice I said pen, not keypad. When you write with a pen to start, words form in your mind because your writing is slower. I can never recreate the flow with a keypad. (Note: There was a spontaneous raising of pens by the other panelists as Jimmy was speaking.)

Joyce (Novelist):  I have a devoted group of readers of my novels who tell me what they like. First, they like that I write as if I were talking to them. No fancy words. Any punctuation other than a period or a comma is too much. Sentences are short. I try to limit sentences to 12-15 words.  I also have short paragraphs. Dense text is deadly. A logical flow to the story is also important.

Greg (Faith-based Journalist):    I echo what the others have said, but let me add one thing from my perspective that may be different. Those who write in my genre are often fire-and-brimstone in their approach. I take a different approach. Sure, I speak of challenges to our faith, but I try to be hopeful. I want my readers to be inspired by possibilities arising from the challenges to their faith, not ashamed or fearful of the challenges.

The panel discussion then continued with questions from the audience. If there was one general theme of the entire discussion it was this: writing without readers has very little value.

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“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dated, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”– Stephen King

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.