Mid-week reflections in JoMC 711

August 27, 2009

My thoughts will run a bit longer than Blackboard’s “Announcements” can accommodate, so I felt it wise to utilize WordPress’s discursive possibilities instead.

First, I am blown away by the caliber of this class cohort. So many of you are responsible for developing online content, managing social media, writing for print and for online, and editing in a variety of roles. And I see so many shared interests and perspectives. We have several recovering daily news reporters, a few broadcast TV journalists, a few in the healthcare industry, and several in government and education. And we’ve yet to hear from eight more signed up for the class. You all are a most impressive group.

A few also are looking for permanent positions in communication, so I hope we can network and identify for each other opportunities out there. I also hope we offer those on the job search a safe haven in which to be encouraged and find support.

My goal and mission, therefore, will be to do all I can to foster a learning community in which we can learn from one another. The course has been wildly successful in this in the past, and I so no reason why it can’t be again this semester.

Second, a few thoughts on writing. Someone mentioned in the introductions suffering from the mythical (or, for writers, fictional) “writer’s block.” I understand where the person is coming from – we all struggle, I think, with the hard work of writing. But make no mistake – what we refer to as “writer’s block” is almost always merely an excuse. Can you imagine a plumber waking up in the morning, “Not today. I have plumber’s block”? My point, however crudely made here, is that we all have to work at writing, and we all can. It is a craft, one that can be taught and learned. We have to work at it every day, whether we feel inspired or – writer’s block – we don’t. We can’t manipulate inspiration – the wind. So when there is no wind, start rowing.

You’ll like this, David. When struggling with what to write, Ernest Hemingway admonished himself to “write something true.” He was a fiction writer. (When asked how he knew what to write, Faulkner replied that he saw his characters running across his typewriter.)

In Chapter 1, we do several drills and exercises. These are designed to help us begin thinking and living like writers, to begin deliberately working on our craft, on our skills as writers. The first writing sample is meant to be just long enough to reveal patterns, blind spots, weaknesses and pet practices. We will critique this writing, so I encourage everyone to begin developing an increasingly thick skin. Writing is (or can be) intensely personal. The first theme is very personal. We will be tempted, then, to take the criticism personally. Don’t. It’s ALL about the writing, and about becoming better at it. Go ahead and wince, spit out a curse word or two, then, with a grain of salt, sift through the criticism (both your writing partner’s and mine) to see what can help you move forward.

I genuinely look forward to reading your writing beginning Monday, especially given the topic, which is a new prompt this semester. (Remember to use the one in BB and NOT the one listed in the textbook.) I will make writing partner designations by Monday for next week’s workshop. I will read each and every one, as well, so if you’re at the back of the bus, please be patient; I’ll get to yours, too.

In closing, remember the first commandment of writing, from fiction writing expert John Dufresne: “Sit your ass in the chair. Sit there daily.”

To writing well.