This past weekend, I attended the Harriette Austin Writers Conference in Athens, Georgia in order to give my brain a good kick in the creative writing seat of the pants (Um, I kinda mixed body parts/metaphors there…you can see why I needed a refresher course or two). So I attended a session called, “So You Want to be A Columnist” presented by Mr. Wally Eberhard, Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Georgia.
Now, here’s a funny side note. I strongly suspect that the Beneficent Mr. Hall may have taken a class from this fine professor during his stint in the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism. When I asked if he (the Beneficent Mr. Hall, that is) remembered this gentleman, he said, “Uhhh. The name sounds familiar.” Mr. Hall probably heard his introduction, right before he (the Beneficent Mr. Hall, that is) fell asleep.
I, however, listened very carefully to Wally Eberhard. Because even though I’ve been writing columns and essays for a long time, I think it’s easy to get in a bit of a rut, and forget the essentials. So here’s a few timely reminders when writing columns (or essays):
1. Engage the reader early! (Don’t take up valuable words, beating around the bush. Most columns are around 600 words)
2. Tell a story, when possible. (Make sure you have that beginning, middle and ending component)
3. Know the MARKET you’re writing for. (This is easy if you’re writing a Chicken Soup for the Soul essay on a specific topic, but not so easy if you’re writing for magazines or newspapers. Do your research before you write!)
4. Read other columnists and essays. (How often do you read really fine essays? Be honest, now. Yes, I thought so. Which is why I’m including a special link for you.)
We know how important it is to read in order to be a better writer. And yet, we often skip that reading when it comes to essays. Wally suggested this link where you can find 15 of the best columns ever written. Of course, you might want to nose around the rest of Columnists.com; it’s full of great information and interesting reads.
So, I’ve got some reading to do. Because I’ve also got some writing to do.