Will Rogers Writer’s Workshop, OKLAHOMA CITY — This Friday-Saturday set of seminars concerned humor writing — for newspapers, magazines, books and in one session greeting cards, covering the writing of funny essays but also sound feature reporting. Improving one’s marketing skills was featured in several ways. The impact of the Internet must have been mentioned in every class and was the subject of two.
What did I learn from famed Dallas-based writing coach Paula LaRocque, the first instructional speaker? Uh, it’s good to reminded of the basics, and she’s clear, cheerful and witty at that. Paula sees a use for the bulleted list in essays and articles. It makes it easier for the reader when the writer is hitting what she called a complex thought, but she meant serial thought. Complex thought was not discussed. Also, a starred list helps the reader when statistics or other figures are presented. Paula relies on PowerPoint, and evidently she thinks its structure improves literature overall.
Jeffrey Zaslow of The Wall Street Journal combined the two main parts — so far — of his enviable career in “Take My Advice: Write Features,” as he spent 14 years as a major advice columnist and wrote feature articles and columns before and since. His method was to hold up clippings from throughout his career and explain their elements. Very old-tech, he said impishly.
A number of grizzled newspapermen when set in front of a class also pull out so-called war stories. Jeff was not doing this. He deliberately was inciting novice writers to see story development through his eyes, how he came up with unique angles on oft-covered topics or familiar celebrities — as well as more mundane but no less important topics.
We experienced journalists got a lot from the session as well. It was a successful format. I meant to tell him this at lunch when he asked me for feedback but the large lively conversation soon shifted though, partly my fault because what I thought was a quip sank.
Overall, Jeff said, he prefers columnists who write with sensitivity and heart, such as Bob Greene. Only one person could write an advice column now with the popularity and impact Ann Landers had, he said, and that would be Oprah Winfrey. He does not predict this.
Lunch comprised a great salad, crisp untrimmed vegetables over pasta with a little sauce, and food-service tiramisu.
Tim Bete, director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, led an afternoon session on writers’ Web sites. He likes Homestead for site building and maintenance. Tim obviously knows how to code but he appreciates this firm doing all that work for him — it is a question of how best a writer should spend his time. That’s a good lesson. Also, you’re going to have to spend a lot of it marketing your stuff, and there’s no short cuts there, even if you were to get a top publisher. For this reason alone, he sees value in print-on-demand self-publishing because the writer keeps more revenue.
I asked Tim when a Web site should be redesigned because I’m sick of mine. He said people often revise sites, or other sorts of packaging, when they’re bored by them or want to fine-tune impulsively, not because they’re ineffective or other good reasons. Leave well enough alone, in short. Thanks. He believes in simplicity and critiquing one’s site content in the eyes of someone you want to see it, in his case an editor. Editors want credentials and samples. “Humor is an impulse buy,” Tim added.
He believes the Internet will improve paid free-lance opportunities. He believes the narrower the free-lancer’s niche the more successful he or she will be.
Dinner was at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The grounds consisted of a garden of course, but that was a shady horse-and-bull cemetery. Some markers were for graves but others were just memorials, noting that this stallion or that Brahma were buried at such-and-such ranch. Artwork depicted such famous cowboys as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.
Dinner was a buffet, featuring cold fried okra in a salad. There was pineapple spoon bread and cornbread casserole. The latter had specks of jalapeno and the former was sweet. Both were yellow mush browned on top.
Afterward on the bus back to the hotel, a writer from Cincinnati, pharmacist Nicholas Hoesl (pronounced ha-zel), bellowed out “Oklahoma,” apparently knowing all the verses, encouraging us to sing along. That will be a wonderful memory. We ended up driving around The Memorial. At night, it’s incredible. -30-