SAGE: “We want you to write a blog to go with the book.”
Me: “What the heck do I know about writing a blog?”
SAGE: “We know you’ll figure it out.”
That was the conversation that launched the DynamicsOfWriting.com back in late June, where I started wandering into this like a kid who lost his mom at Walmart. The great hope was that I was able keep up a blogging schedule that didn’t have people wondering, “Is this thing still on?”
With 200 posts in less than a year, I’m guessing I got there, so I figured it’s time to take a look back at some of the various things that were helpful, interesting or just amusing.
From Humble Beginnings: When in doubt, focus on the audience. That’s the theme of the book, the blog and my very first post.
Filak-isms: At some point, I’m going to need to translate the random theories, ideas and other sewage that swirls around in my head so that more people can understand what I’m saying on the blog. In the mean time, check out the concept of a handful of Jell-O, why you shouldn’t change a light bulb with a hammer, how you earn the fungus on your shower shoes, how I rely on only a specific amount of pain in teaching and how you will never end up on a lunch box, so it’s OK that you screw up occasionally.
Student Journalists Rock (and so can you): One of the biggest things I tried to incorporate into the book and the blog was student journalists and their work. The reason is that if you only put things from the New York Times or Washington Post in there as examples or only rely on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, students can say, “I’m not that and there’s no way I’ll ever do that kind of stuff.” However, students do incredible journalism on their campuses and they’re people just like the folks reading the book. The students at the University of Virginia covered the “Unite the Right” march and they talked to us in a three-part series. Student reporters at Rice talked about Hurricane Harvey’s wrath and their work to cover it, even as it messed with their campus. A student at Southern Illinois University dug into the shady past of the school’s top administrator. And the ongoing saga of The Sunflower at Wichita State showed how students balanced their own crises and the need to hold public officials accountable. College students with the same issues, class schedules, work requirements and experience did all this and more. So can you.
Why Did You Tell My Professor About This?: As if instructors don’t have enough ways to make school painful, I shared a couple of my favorite things we did in class. The boatload of AP style quizzes should be more than enough to sharpen your editing, but the bigger things were probably the “labs” and exams I pitched. The “Feel It” Lab is still a classic that students remember years after participating in it. The same is true for the “Smell It” Lab. However, the “You don’t even know, man…” exercise my students often reference in their course evals is “The Midterm from Hell.” Whatever you think of these exercises, please don’t mail me a bag of dog excrement. We have a high-strung mini-Schnauzer, so we have plenty of that as it is.
Beating the Drum on the Basics: Just like everything else, your writing improves when you practice the basics over and over. That’s why we talk about the “holy trinity” of noun-verb-object, show you an example of how the inverted pyramid can keep you from finding out about a naked man on fire only in paragraph 11 and why attributions will save your keester at every possible turn.
Understanding Your Professors: Professors often gripe about students and students gripe about professors. It’s the natural order of being. In an attempt to use humor to break down those walls and improve your class, we offered you a few ways to prevent your class from sucking, the “five conversations journalism professors have in hell,” better ways to ask questions that drive your professors nuts and how to make the most out of you course evaluations.
The Bad, The Weird and The “OK, so THAT Happened” Moments: Journalism reminds us that there’s a lot of stupid out there, some of it comes from the journalists themselves. Still, there’s plenty to learn when a company puts out a racist sweatshirt, a sorority member decides she can use the “N-word” on social media because she’s “in the South,” how to avoid digging yourself any deeper into a social media rabbit hole after you call a U.S. citizen an “immigrant” on Twitter, how women in the news should be covered as more than the owners of a productive womb, how to avoid talking about hand jobs in your publication and other random screw-ups you should avoid.
In looking back, we covered a lot of stuff in a small amount of time. It went by in a blink, thanks in large part to guest bloggers, professional journalists and other folks who gave their time to break up the monotony of me. I hope it’s been as helpful for you as it has been for me. And, as always, if you have any questions or need something you haven’t gotten, just ask.
Vince (aka The Doctor of Paper)