Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Chautauqua Experience

Lucky enough to have been the recipient of a scholarship, I attended the Highlights Foundation workshop in Chautauqua, New York, two years in a row. It was quite a while back, but I still remember the excitement of it all. Besides meeting and getting books autographed by renowned authors and illustrators, I enjoyed the fabulous food, basked in the tranquility of the campus, and made lifelong friends. I’d like to share some of what I learned about the craft of writing. 

“A writer is the verbal painter,” said Peter Jacobi, professor emeritus of journalism at Indiana University. He used examples of art and music, sensual art versus impact. 

“Capture your reader,” he said. “Think first, plan, then write.”  Some of his writing tips: 

§  Promise and deliver – The first page should set subject, tone and direction. Then what you promised the reader must began to be delivered. 

§  Flow – Make your narrative flow steadily ahead. A river of words unbroken from start to finish. 

§  Clarity in language – Lucidity in thought. Word choice. Seek to find the right one. 

§  Rhythm – Listen to your sentences as they grate against the mind. How do they come together? 

§  Movement – Do not bind your story with a pile of ingredients where there is no sense of movement or forward propulsion of your story. 

§  Surprise the reader with the unexpected from left field. 

§  X-ray – Take the reader behind the scenes. 

“Nice writing is not enough,” he said. “Surprise the reader along the way. Do not write the fact that it’s raining, but the feel that you’re being rained upon.”

 There was much, much more. I am only able to skim the surface in this article. I hope many of you will one day be able to attend the writers’ workshops at Chautauqua. It is well worth it. Most rewarding was the accessibility of the faculty and the inspiration and guidance they offered in a setting that most writers only dream about.

If you want to write for Highlights magazine, make sure your story applies to their mission statement. Address your manuscript to the appropriate editor.  Go to their web site,, subscribe or get a copy of Highlights so you can get an idea of what types of stories they’re looking for.

"When composing a magazine article, it is usally better to write with a specific market in mind so your work will match the publication's style and tone and be directed toward its unique readership." -- Writing Tip from Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

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