Tag Archives: Don Murray

Do-It-Yourself Story Coaching: An Introduction

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

Writers and editors can sometimes be an unpredictable alliance. Specialists in each discipline need each other (although sometimes they don’t act like it), but at times it’s unclear which set of skills will best bring a non-fiction article to a satisfactory conclusion and eventual publication.

During the month of March, Write Livelihood will be exploring do-it-yourself story coaching, a new approach to self-editing. Story coaching is a way of editing that broadens the concept of revision well beyond proofreading and line-by-line revision, taking the whole of the piece into account, as well as a writer’s development over time.

Story coaching isn’t new. The legendary author, editor, teacher and writing coach Don Murray, who passed away in late 2006, was one of the first to suggest that an editor’s relationship to authors should be that of a coach, not primarily a grammar cop or an overseer. In a eulogy of Murray on Poynter.org, Roy Clark has this touching anecdote that summarizes Murray’s attitude:

“Some time in the early 1980s, my youngest daughter, Lauren, now 26, was a toddler, and I asked her, “Can you say ‘Don,’ Lauren? Say ‘Don.’ ” She looked up at the Santa Claus-like figure in our family room and said something like ‘Bobo.’ ‘That’s great,’ I said, giving her a little squeeze. ‘Good job, Lauren!’

“What followed was a mini-lesson from Murray on how to teach writing. It went something like this: ‘Too bad we don’t teach children to write the way we teach them to talk or walk. When a baby tries to take her first step and then falls down, we treat it like a national holiday. We surround the baby with support. We don’t say: No, no, no, before you can learn to walk, you need to develop the proper foot angle. Don’t try that again, you little brat, before you’ve mastered the basics.’”

Others who have added to the craft of story coaching are Clark himself (individually and in partnership with Don Fry), Jack Hart, and Jacqui Banaszynski. Banaszynski was my introduction to the discipline; her story-coaching seminar at a gathering of university editors helped me recognize the sort of editor I was all along, and fired me with new confidence that I had something to offer to my writers.

DIY Story Coaching

The only catch with the current state of story coaching is that if often relies on regular contact with an editor to make it work. For many writers, including freelancers or those just starting out, this contact is sporadic or absent. This month’s blog series will cover how to adapt many of the most useful tools in the story coaching “kit” to use with your own writing.

There are many rewards of self-coaching your way through your stories. For one thing, practicing story coaching on your own work makes you much more desirable as a writer to editors, as you will improve your ability to understand their approach to editing and how to collaborate with them successfully. Also, you will be able to peer edit the work of other writers with more clarity and specificity, which is always a useful communications skill to have (and a leg up if you ever want to become an editor yourself).

Next Week: The 2 Essential Keys to Story Coaching

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10 reasons to keep a writer’s notebook

Photo courtesy SXC.

I’ve kept a writer’s notebook for about 3.5 years. In that time, I’ve written successful queries, created two new blogs (this one and Creative Liberty) and significantly expanded my writing and editing work. I’m a big advocate of every writer carrying a notebook with them that they write in daily, or nearly daily.

Here are 10 reasons starting a writer’s notebook can charge up your writing work.

1. You can capture ideas before they’re gone. How many times have you had a great idea for an article, film, play, whatever, only to have it slip away before you got it committed to paper?

2. You can record sensory impressions while they are fresh. Often, what separates functional writing from truly great writing is the verisimilitude of the details. With a notebook at hand, you can capture a scene as it unfolds and not worry later if you got the color of the sky, or the color of baggy pants the strange smelly guy on the bus was wearing, right.

3. Writing your ideas down by hand is different than typing them in on your laptop.

4. You can track the development of your ideas from start to finish (even if this takes several notebooks for “big ideas” such as books!).

5. Storage and transport can be easier than computer based methods (I’m still a little leery of taking my laptop on a hike over rocky terrain).

6. Having a notebook handy makes it easier to record brain-dumps and zero drafts–which results in less blocking when it’s time to hit the computer and type a rough draft.

7. You can add mind-maps, storyboards and clippings to your notebook easily, making a neat analog multimedia experience for your story development process (think scrapbooking).

8. You can conduct an impromptu interview or write down all those stray research leads that can get lost if you depend on memory or texting your e-mail or another one-off sort of digital method.

9. Writing daily, in your own handwriting, cultivates an intimacy with your writing voice. You can find, and then fine-tune, your authentic tone.

10. Writer’s notebooks are a great place to experiment with new ideas, approaches, divulge your secret thoughts (at least to yourself) or practice a new technique in a pressure-free, private arena.

Helpful links related to keeping a writer’s notebook:

Daybooks: From the site LiketoWrite.com. A meditation on the value of “daybooks,” a personalized writer’s notebook. The term was coined by the late great journalist and writing coach Don Murray.

1000 Journals and 1001 Journals: A fascinating collaborative journaling project that has made its way around the world and spawned a book and documentary. The websites feature scans and photos of the pages of many of the journals.

Moleskine: The favored brand of notebook for many a writer.

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