As I prepare curriculum for my writing class (for e-media majors), I’ve been thinking about the core strengths that every writer needs no matter what medium they’re working in.
I came up with the following.
- Storytelling prowess [plot & structure]. There’s a reason that knowledge of plot and structure, from Aristotle’s Poetics, is regurgitated or renewed across virtually every writing instruction book. It works. I often recommend, for a more contemporary take, listening to Ira Glass discuss storytelling. Even though he speaks about radio storytelling, the lessons are valid in all mediums. Side note: Many writers, especially those in scriptwriting, are fans of The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler, which is a slant (for writers) of Joseph Campbell’s work on myth.
- Knowing your audience & writing for the reader. We are all motivated to write for different reasons, or have unique passions that inform what we write about (or how!). Some people question whether the true artist should think of his/her reader at all. But for me, writing without an ideal reader in mind is akin to sailing a ship without a compass. There is no destination, we have no guide. Can we work at our best when we act only on our own desires, and care only about fulfilling ourselves?
- Economy and skillfulness with words [or: rewriting/revising]. Whether you write long or short, fiction or nonfiction, online or offline, there is nothing more admirable than the writer who can express a complex and beautiful thought in a few exact words. It’s the long-winded writer who frustrates, confuses, and bores. Focus, discipline, tightness: these are qualities that can be taught. As Hemingway once alluded to, getting the words right is the challenge (and pain) of every writer. Rewriting and revising is a skill that’s sharpened over a lifetime.
So, what have I missed? What other core knowledge does a writer need, regardless of medium?
P.S. Recent articles suggest that job growth for new communication/media grads is in social media and online community management, which sheds a very interesting light on how tight messaging and knowledge of audience play a role in how successful our communication is.