Archive for May 14th, 2007

Interview with Jack Hart, Author of The Writer’s Coach

Susan W. ClarkInterview by Susan W. Clark

There is a rich new resource between the covers of The Writer’s Coach (Pantheon, 2006). This book was a delight to read, satisfying my hunger for skill-polishing knowledge. Author Jack Hart starts with how to organize the writing process, finishes with options for writerly career development, and sandwiches between these a wealth of grammar and word-use lessons spiced with real-life stories and examples.

I first heard Hart speak at two book promotion events. Then I read his book and decided I’d like to interview him because I had a serious case of I-want-my-own-writing-coach envy. Hart is a managing editor and writing coach at The Oregonian, where he has helped to establish a learning culture so attractive that writers from big Eastern papers have moved here. Maybe they were hoping to join The Oregonian’s four Pulitzer Prize winners.

Hart became an editor when he was tapped to serve as Arts and Leisure editor not long after he came to The Oregonian. He said, “I’m an organized person,” and explained with a chuckle that because organization is highly valued in editors, he was offered increasingly interesting editorial jobs. For Hart the best part was editing the Sunday magazine, which included working with many freelance writers.

Hart said that the concept of “writing coach” emerged when a group of editors were sitting around talking at a Hawaii meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). Someone noted that words were their product and maybe they could do something to improve the writing they sold. It was a time of change, back when the advent of computers was requiring lots of staff training. The group agreed and a national movement was launched. It included the creation of the ASNE Awards that Hart describes as the most prestigious in the newspaper world, and it led to Hart becoming the writing coach at The Oregonian in 1988.

Hart’s approach to coaching “helps you do your best work.” His background gave him a blue-ribbon preparation for improving journalistic skills, including a PhD in Mass Communication and experience teaching writing full-time at several universities. He said, “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been in the perfect situation to find out what helps writers produce good writing.” Describing the early coaching at The Oregonian, Hart said, “We brought in the best people we could find [to coach our journalists] about once a month for about three years. I was taking notes faster than anyone.”

At The Oregonian, Hart often works with a writer and editor. “Today I met with a writer and her editor, and the photographer even sat in.” They talked about the article and the approach she might take. In addition to offering coaching on a specific article, Hart will take on a writer for several months to help him or her develop a new skill. He explained, “We have a learning culture here.”

Asked what he would emphasize as most important for WOTR readers, Hart says, “I’ve learned that your writing process is the most important, and if you want to change the way you write, you need to change that process. Then constantly expand your craft and you’ll write well. A one-step-at-a-time approach to writing that includes good process takes a lot of the pain out of writing.” Referring to a quote in the book, he said, “You don’t have to sit and stare at the keyboard until drops of blood appear on your forehead.”

I plan to look for Hart’s session at the National Writers Workshop that will be held in Portland on June 2-3. It is jointly hosted by The Oregonian and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The workshop hotline is 503-221-8144, or you can go to http://biz.oregonian.com/newsroom and click on National Writers Workshop.

Photographer, editor, and award-winning writer, Susan W. Clark is an ardent advocate for sustainability. The Utne Reader applauded her article “Sustainable Revolution” from In Good Tilth magazine as “world-changing.” She is a regular contributor to In Good Tilth and Touch the Soil. Her work has appeared in the Capitol Press, Portland Tribune, Small Farmer’s Journal, and Permaculture Activist. She edits Salt of the Earth, the quarterly journal of Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust. Her observations about living within our ecological means are posted at http://susanwclark.wordpress.com.

The Perfect Writer’s Desk

hope_000.gifTime Management for Writers

By C. Hope Clark

A new writer in my critique group asked if she could look at my study to see what a real writer’s workspace looked like. I fought to hide my surprise and puzzlement. Your workspace is yours and will reflect your quirks, talents, desires and organizational skills. I won’t touch the first three, but I can definitely address what the efficiently organized desk should include. I’m a fanatic about mine, and it’s served me well. As an organizational guru, I see the following items as absolute necessities to managing a writing career:

  1. Spiral notepad – Mine is 5” x 6”. I work in the evenings, so each night before I shut down, I open to a new page, date the top for the next day and list the to-do items. That next day, my work duties await me. I jot ideas, references and connections on the rest of the page, often continuing to the back. Then at the end of my day, I note what hasn’t been done or what needs addressing anew and turn to a clean page. It’s amazing how many times I’ve referenced past dates and counted my lucky stars that I documented my work.
  2. Week-at-a-glance calendar – Mine is a “Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar,” 5” x 7” and lays flat, thus the need for a spiral binding. While the notepad addresses day-by-day details, the calendar notes long-term deadlines. Not only is this organizationally wise, but it’s a great record for income taxes where you can note mileage, meetings, trips to the office supply store and phone calls. My old calendars are in my tax drawer with past years’ returns. I purchase this one each year, and adore it so much I offer it on my personal Web site. Each week features a writer like you and me. This year I’m featured on the week of February 25.
  3. Phone – I prefer a land line. Mine is also a speakerphone so I can work and talk at the same time. This is effective for interviews and documenting information. If you prefer a cell phone, consider a head set to leave you hands-free.
  4. Thesaurus and dictionary – Hardbacks lay open better. When I’m intensely engrossed in a freelance deadline, mine stay open until I’m finished.
  5. Printer – My printer sits to my left within reach from my chair. When I’m busy, the last thing I want to do is jump up to retrieve a page. Printers are the cheapest of the electronic tools of your trade. Purchase the best you can afford with a laser jet being the ultimate goal. The savings in toner alone makes the investment worthwhile.
  6. Assorted envelopes – My desk is stocked with 9” x 12” bubble envelopes for books, 8.5” x 11” white envelopes for queries and small manuscripts, 9” x 12” for larger manuscripts and #10 business letter envelopes. Make an editor’s job easier by presenting your work in the best envelope for the job. Having a variety of sizes also keeps you from cramming too many papers in one envelope. Presentation is as important as your font size and grammar. Mail your work so it arrives pristine, without creases and with less chance of paper cuts.
  7. Light – I installed overhead lighting in my office with one floodlight shining straight down on my keyboard. I have night blindness, so dim light can make a G and a Q look alike to me. Tired eyes can also play tricks on you. Providing proper lighting can ease your eyes and help you be more efficient and accurate. Even a small lamp can make a huge difference.
  8. Chair – The chair has to fit you comfortably. Shop hard for the right one so you can prevent back, neck and shoulder pain.
  9. Mouse – Again…think ergonomics. Your mouse has to fit nicely in your hand; but even more important is using it at the right height and angle in relationship with your keyboard. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a marvelous site for how to properly place your workstation so you’ll have fewer ergonomic problems.

Having the proper basics allows you to focus your days on writing in lieu of finding this or reaching that. Another friend from my critique group often asks me how I accomplish what I do. He thinks I’m a whiz kid and a computer guru, making my system produce faster for me. I assure him it’s all in the organization of one’s space, one’s day, one’s frame of mind. With a good set up, your production increases ten fold.

C. Hope Clark is founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com, annually recognized by Writer’s Digest in its poll of 101 Best Web Sites for Writers. She delivers four newsletters each week to thousands with her specialty being grants and income opportunities for writers of all sizes. She’s published over 200 articles on paper and online. Her magazine credits include Writer’s Digest, The Writer Magazine, ByLine Magazine, NextStep Teen, College Bound Teen, Landscape Management Magazine, TURF Magazine, and American Careers Magazine. Hope is a motivational soul known as “Freelance Hope” in many circles. Those reluctant to promote their writing cherish her trade paperback The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success. Find more hope for your writing career at www.fundsforwriters.com & www.theshywriter.com


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