Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
The SAT essay section might be useless in determining writing aptitude and, in fact, could encourage bad writing. Also, a look at what skills you might need in order to become a speechwriter, a freelancing process that can't fail, and the 2,000-year-old communication system called social media.
Writing under pressure:
Any professional writer faces deadlines, and it could be argued that with marketers' need for more content and journalists' need for more news, today's writers face greater time contraints than ever. before Which brings us to this Slate
piece about the SAT essay portion. Matthew J.X. Malady writes that the section, in giving students only 25 minutes to complete an essay, is actually encouraging bad writing due to its even faster review process, which is often less than three minutes per essay. The section therefore encourages tricks, not quality writing, to get a scorer's attention, the argument goes. Is the essay section even necessary? The recognition of writing's importance to student success is nice, but is a high-pressure, timed essay the best way to discover creativity and command of language? Even the most overworked journalist seldom finds himself in this kind of situation. As one college writing professor put it in the story:
There is no other writing situation in the world where people have to write on a topic that they’ve never thought about, on demand, in 25 minutes.Speechwriting skills:
What talents does one need to be a speechwriter for the president of the United States? Apparently an interest in politics and a willingness to write about a lot of things. Former presidential speechwriters Don Baer and Michael Gerson talked about their craft with students at Dartmouth this week. Gerson, a former journalist, said his desire to be a generalist helped:
Some people like to go really deep and establish an expertise in a topic, but I wanted to have influence at this intersection between politics and policy and communication, and speechwriting is a strategic way to do that.
[RELATED: Learn to write a great speech, no matter what time crunch you're in.]
It's probably true that anyone who seeks a career in speechwriting would rather be a generalist. To be one anywhere, not just the White House, you have to be willing to know a little about a lot of things.
A process for freelancers:
On a site called Dagblog
, a contributor writes about a production process that helps him keep peace as a freelancer and never obsess over a single assignment:
Having at least one article in press, one out for review, and one on the boil, when I can manage that trick, keeps me from obsessing about the response to any individual piece of writing.
Though the writer gives freelance academic writing as an example, this practice could certainly apply to those with staff writing jobs as well. Beginning an article while another is under review—even if it's only to occupy yourself—is just a good idea.
A new book about the history of media makes the case that the media filter from which social media apparently freed us was a 20th-century phenomenon, and that social media has been the default communication tool for nearly all of man's existence. In Writing on the Wall: Social Media - the first 2,000 years
, Tom Standage writes that the William Randolph Hearsts and Rupert Murdochs of the world were an exception that emerged in the last century:
Before them, news, rumour and wisdom moved horizontally, among people who liked, loved, loathed one another or had interests in common—social networks.
So what does this mean to professional writers? Maybe that the decline of what we know as traditional journalism—a crucial element to the kind of free society that is also fairly recent—is simply a return to the most traditional kind of writing. Except that now it comes with a paycheck and job title, and it's called content marketing.
A couple more stories worth checking out:
The Atlantic on why Alice Munro, the newest winner of the Nobel in Literature, writes short stories and not novels.Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.
A teacher shares in The New York Times a lesson on how Twitter bios can teach concise writing.